Talking About “My Dinner with Andre”

My Dinner with André (1981) has become famous largely due to impressions of the film that are often wildly off base. To many viewers it’s simply that film where two guys spend the whole time just sitting and talking (an impression that led to one of the funniest Simpsons references ever). Something like that might be an intriguing experiment, but it’s divorced from the actual character of the film. Although a conversation that long was still something new, filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and Eric Rohmer had already experimented with letting the action stop while characters had in-depth conversations. The act of having that marathon conversation is less interesting than what they actually talk about. At a comfortable remove of 35 years from the film’s premier, it’s easier to see cut out the noise and see what truly makes My Dinner with André a masterpiece.

The film stars Wallace Shawn and André Gregory. Shawn is an important playwright, but he is probably best known for his acting. First coming to prominence in Woody Allen’s Manhattan(1979), Shawn has specialized in playing variations on the trollish man, most famously in The Princess Bride (1987). Shawn wrote the screenplay to My Dinner based off of conversations with his friend André Gregory, a famous avant-garde theater director. Louis Malle, the great French director, has a less obvious influence on the film. The movie is so dependent on Wallace screenplay and Gregory’s stories that it’s easy to forget about his direction. But that’s by design, as Malle correctly knew that the film would only work if it eschewed any kind of visual acts and just focused on the conversation. It’s a difficult but appropriate choice.

Although this is a movie where two guys spend the majority of the film talking while getting dinner at a fancy restaurant, that simplifies what happens in the film. . .

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