A renowed Christian author of apologetic works, who often could be quite cantankerous, once told a not-so-bright, somewhat disruptive caller on his radio talk show, “You shouldn’t be ashamed to be called an idiot if that’s what you are.” (Clearly, he overlooked the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:22, “anyone who says, `You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
The new hilarious French comedy by writer-director Francis Veber has a unique story gimmick that reflects the ideas behind this comment about the nature of being an idiot. Sometimes, being an idiot is in the eye of the beholder. At other times, being an idiot is exactly what we are. That goes for all of us.
In the award-winning THE DINNER GAME, Thierry Lhermitte plays a book publisher named Pierre. Pierre attends a weekly dinner where he and his friends each invite someone whom they consider an idiot, to secretly make fun of their guests while they’re visiting. One particular week, Pierre’s friend invites a man who collects boomerangs. Pierre, however, has trouble finding an idiot until another friend meets a chubby, mousy, but friendly, government tax collector named Francois. Francois, who lost his wife to his best friend, assuages his loneliness by making elaborate matchstick models of engineering feats like the Golden Gate Bridge and the Eiffel Tower. Francois, however, is so passionate about his hobby that he hardly cannot stop talking about it, if given the chance. Thus, once he starts, it’s hard to get him to stop, no matter how bored you may get about it.
Pierre asks Francois to meet at his place before the dinner party. Meanwhile, Pierre’s wife is so upset about the continued dinner party for idiots that she doesn’t wait to meet Francois but leaves in a huff. Francois, of course, does not know the real reason he’s been invited. He thinks Pierre may publish a book on his hobby. At the last minute, however, Pierre throws out his back and has to tell Francois when he arrives that they have to attend next week’s dinner party instead.
Determined to help his new “friend” with his back problem, Francois makes things worse by helping Pierre move around the living room. He offers to call Pierre’s doctor but accidentally calls the mistress whom Pierre appears to be trying to stop seeing because she’s a “nymphomaniac.” The unwanted mistress learns from Francois that Pierre is upset about his wife’s abrupt departure, so she goes to console him despite Pierre’s request that she not come. Pierre soon realizes that he must now depend on the “idiot,” Francois, to stave off the soon-to-be-ex-mistress and to find out where his wife has gone. The problem is, no matter how hard Francois thinks and no matter how hard he listens to Pierre’s elaborate instructions, he nearly always reaches the wrong conclusion and does the wrong thing. This only makes matters terribly worse, requiring new levels of crazy efforts to extricate the two men from the developing comic nightmare.
The comedy in THE DINNER GAME builds and builds to a strong, hilarious conclusion that also teaches some important moral lessons for Pierre as well as the audience. Pierre learns that he may be an even bigger idiot than Francois. He also finally realizes the cruelty behind the dinner game that he and his rich friends have been playing. That cruelty reveals to Pierre a mean streak in himself that probably is the root cause of the problems with his wife. So, there’s an element of repentance and redemption in the movie’s conclusion.
THE DINNER GAME is one of the funniest movies of the past several years. It may remind people of classic Hollywood comedies such as Howard Hawks’ 1940 gem, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, or Preston Sturges’ wonderful HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO. Both Jacques Villeret as Francois and Daniel Prevost as another tax collector whom Pierre and Francois enlist won well-deserved French Oscars for their work. So did director Veber for the screenplay of his hit play.
Although there are some brief references to sexually immoral situations, such as Pierre’s adultery, the focus of the movie is more concerned with how Pierre can reconcile with his wife. At one point, he’s afraid that, out of anger at him, she has gone to visit a man who’s alleged to be a “sex fiend” with a “love nest.” So Pierre uses Francois’ help to rescue his wife before she makes the same mistake he has already made. Ultimately, the few sexual references in the story are merely plot devices. They appear to be a little worse than the kinds of sexual references you might see in a romantic comedy from Hollywood’s Golden Age during the 1930s and 1940s, but not as bad as the ones you might see in the early 1960s, before the new ratings dramatically increased the amount and explicitness of the sexual content in mainstream movies.
Regrettably, however, THE DINNER GAME contains 25 mostly strong exclamatory obscenities. That, and the mild level of sexual references, indicate to MOVIEGUIDE® that THE DINNER GAME deserves a mild caution, with parental discretion regarding teenagers aged 13 and older. With that caveat in mind, readers just might want to try attending this DINNER party if they would like to enjoy many good laughs at the foibles of men.
Moral worldview with mild redemptive theme at end about the importance of loving your neighbor, even if that neighbor happens to be a clumsy fool, plus some immoral pagan elements which the movie appears to rebuke; 25 mostly strong exclamatory obscenities & 3 mild exclamatory profanities such as "My God!"; some mild slapstick violence done for laughs; no sex, but brief mention of woman's alleged "nymphomania," of man's adultery & of unseen man's nature of being a "sex fiend" with a "love nest" where he brings various women; alcohol use; smoking; and, adultery, lying rebuked, cruelty rebuked & redeemed, & tax evasion.