“Dinner in America” Refuses to ‘Turn it Down a Notch’

When you’re running away from the police, where’s the best place to hide?

In the Sundance film "Dinner in America," Simon (Kyle Gallner) finds himself fleeing the police after his most recent bout of arson. He decides to hide in the most mundane places he can think of — Midwestern suburban homes. Yet, as he escapes increasingly closer calls with the police, Simon, who embodies the epitome of punk rock, meets Patty (Emily Skeggs), who provides both a place to stay and the opportunity for adventure. 

As many of the first scenes of the film revolve around dinnertime, we see the dichotomy between seemingly happy families with white picket fences and the emotional turmoil that lies within the residences. From cheating partners to secret adoptions, there is no limit to the vast imperfections that are hidden within the walls of suburbia. But, as Simon carefully marks his place as a guest within Patty’s family, he unearths troves of hidden information. 

The chance encounter between Patty and Simon develops into an embodiment of teenage rebellion as the two take their time to stick it to the man, get revenge upon high school bullies, and confront the people who mistreat Patty because of her slight mental disability. 

Throughout the film, Patty begs her parents to let her attend a rock concert on Friday night. Although they don’t know it, Patty’s favorite band — a punk rock group named Psyops — is opening. Yet without Patty’s knowledge, her “music boyfriend” — the lead singer of Psyops — is the mysterious Simon staying in her house. 

“Dinner in America” explores the realities of teen angst, social injustice, band disagreements, and budding relationships — all set to the backdrop of original punk beats peppered between scene breaks. This film is quick-paced, and the utter ridiculousness of suburbia along with the comedic timing from both Gallner and Skeggs creates a critical lens through which the two — who have been branded as misfits — find connection.

Writer and Director Adam Rehmeier

Adam Rehmeier both wrote and directed the film, and his greater creative control through these two roles resulted in a film that beautifully executes his vision of punk rock which dismantles the facade of perfection within suburbia. Gallner and Skeggs bring an irresistibility to their performances, and it is impossible to tear your eyes away from the screen as they both demand attention. 

“Dinner in America” is delightfully ridiculous, punk, rebellious, sexy, addictive, and insightful. Full of commentaries on familial relationships and societal regulations, Rehmeier’s film offers all too real analyses of escaping suburban life. Throughout the many meals with Patty’s family, she is constantly told to “turn it down a notch” — silencing her and negating her attitudes. Yet, as Simon helps her break out of her shell — while respecting her boundaries — Patty learns how to be unapologetically herself. 

With a blend of comedy, romance, action, and punk music, I found myself loving every second of “Dinner in America.” While the explicit language, sexual content, and drug use might turn some off, the content of the film presents a realism through which Patty and Simon turn to and rely on each other to cope with the sheer insanity of their lives. 

In the Q+A after the premiere of the film, Rehmeier stated that the film doesn’t have a specific time frame because the realities of Patty’s and Simon’s lives are timeless. The film has tapedecks and polaroid cameras, but the Psyops band also doesn’t want to perform to “a sea of cellphones.” Yet, to define the period, Rehmeier took inspiration from the 1990s and blended that period with a dry humor reflective of “Napoleon Dynamite.” 

“Dinner in America” is proudly unapologetic and offers a blaringly loud critique of suburbia and the Midwest society where you “can only get a decent dinner in America” when you’re locked up in prison. 

5/5 stars

Photo Credit: 1, 2