"Dinner in America" is a modern indie movie classic with a badass soundtrack

20 minutes into watching Dinner in America, I turned to my wife and said that I wished this movie had existed back when I was in high school. Aesthetically, it has a lot in common with those mid-90s to early-00s indie romcoms I sought out in my teens — movies like Todd Solondz's Happiness or Miranda July's You and Me and Everyone You Know, those kind of slice-of-life suburban explorations that are at once wholesome and endearing yet also totally fucked and inappropriate for teens (in a wonderful way).

The only difference is that Dinner in America is also punk as fuck.

It's hard to figure out what exactly to say about this wonderful film — other than the fact that it's a sheer delight, and you should rent it ASAP. The thing is, both the title, and the description of the film — while technically accurate — don't really prepare you for this unique experience. But here, I'll give you the setup anyway:

In a dreary Midwestern suburb, aggro punk rocker Simon (Kyle Gallner) finds himself on the run again after a bout of arson and a close call with the police. A chance encounter with the eccentric Patty (Emily Skeggs) provides him a place to hide, though she fails to realize that her new friend is the anonymous lead singer of her favorite band. As the two embark on a series of misadventures, they realize they have a lot more in common than they first expected.

On one hand, that blurb spoils more than I would have wanted to spoil in a review. But one of the fun things about the movie is that it structurally eschews your expectations of that "meet-cute" scenario. Most other filmmakers would milk the dramatic irony of Patty and Simon's relationship — using the knowledge of who-knows-which-secret to build tension between the characters, forcing their romance apart. But writer/director Adam Rehmeier takes a different route, which is surprisingly more satisfying, and ultimately more refreshing. The details of the connection that Patty and Simon share are subtly conveyed in seemingly-throwaway scenes. Most rom-coms would play up the secrets they don't know they know about each other as some sort of epic spark of fate. But there's an understated simplicity to Dinner in America that makes it almost counter-intuitively more powerful as a film, and also resonates with its thematic exploration of these suburban outcasts.

The same goes with the eponymous dinners of the title — which is also somewhat misleading in its own. The film is sort-of loosely structured around three dinners in suburban family homes. On one hand, it would sound misleading to say, "This is a movie about the star-crossed romance between an anarcho-punk criminal and a subversively eccentric midwestern girl, told through a series of family dinners." On the other hand…I mean, yeah that is kind of exactly what the movie is. Except not at all. Simon and Patty are both characters who are restricted and oppressed by the generic midwestern town in which they live … and yet, you can't extricate their characters from that existence either, because that wholesome suburban hell has shaped them into who they are when their paths finally meet.

While the entire cast is fantastic, I also need to specifically call out the incredible performance of Emily Skeggs. Full disclosure: Skeggs is a friend of mine, and my wife gave her one of her earliest professional acting opportunities that turned into a hit. But I can genuinely say that her performance as Patty is impressively nuanced and transformative. When you first meet Patty, she's weird, and it's hard to get a read on her. But she quickly reveals that she has a lot of layers. Skeggs marries all of these layers into a cohesive vision, who changes and grows throughout the film. Patty seems like a completely different person at the beginning and the end of the film — and yet, her arc is also completely coherent, and delivered so subtly that you barely even notice the metamorphosis happening before your eyes until it's complete, at which point you're like, "Yeah, that tracks."

Also, she helped to co-wrote the movie's most iconic song, in-character as Patty. And if nothing else, the movie is worth it for the watermelon song. (You can listen to the song on its own, 'cause it fucking rock, but it's even better as a pay-off in the story).

The tl;dr of this rambling review: Dinner in America is a delightful subversive indie rom-com about a pair of star-crossed outcasts, and why the fuck haven't you watched it yet?

Dinner in America