The Austin Chronicle

Melvin Goes to Dinner

Not rated, 83 min. Directed by Bob Odenkirk. Starring Michael Blieden, Stephanie Courtney, Matt Price, Annabelle Gurwitch, Kathleen Roll, Maura Tierney, David Cross, Melora Walters.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 11, 2003

Recipient of the Audience Award at the 2003 SXSW Film Festival, Melvin Goes to Dinner is indeed a pleasing film. Michael Blieden, who plays the titular Melvin, also wrote the screenplay based on his stage play Phyro-Giants. Four people – some of them strangers to each other – meet for dinner in a restaurant and spend the evening talking and sharing intimacies over several bottles of wine. These are thirtysomething people sorting through their in-between years – the years between 24/7 fun and settling down. Melvin makes a dinner date with his old friend Joey (Price), whom he hasn't seen in months and calls by accident on speed dial. When he arrives at the restaurant, he discovers Joey has also invited along an old friend Alex (Courtney), a woman who happens to be in town for business overnight. On her way to the restaurant, Alex runs into an old friend of hers, Sarah (Gurwitch), and brings her along to the dinner. These four cover topics ranging from religion to anal sex – and everything in between. Lubricated by free-flowing wine, the conversation (filmed with several cameras) is interesting, funny, and natural. Reaction shots receive almost as much weight as expository shots. Director Bob Odenkirk, who is best known for his HBO series Mr. Show, dials down the comedy antics for this feature, and instead shows a softer, more subtle approach to comedy than his fans may be accustomed to. But the approach pays off for Odenkirk, who shows real skill with the gradual manner in which he allows this story to evolve. Also providing assistance are the amusing cameos by Mr. Show's David Cross and Jack Black, scenes filmed as flashbacks that take place outside the restaurant confines, and a nice score by Michael Penn. Melvin Goes to Dinner hasn’t the intellectual heft of its obvious predecessor My Dinner With Andre, but neither does it have the element of glib chatter that passes for conversation on the popular IFC show Dinner for Five. Odenkirk’s movie should inspire viewers to call up old friends, order a bottle of wine, and talk the night away.

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