‘My Dinner With André’ at 40: Still Serving Hot Takes


Hear me out: “My Dinner With André” was the original podcast. Released on Oct. 11, 1981, this seminal art-house flick invited us to listen in on 110-minutes of dialogue between two people who ship sizzling takes and profundities that no one requested for. And but, “My Dinner With André” is simply as recent 40 years later.

Directed by Louis Malle and written by the then little-known Wallace Shawn and André Gregory, taking part in themselves, the two-hander cooked up a singular premise — a dialog cherry-picked from fragments of years of taped discussions between the 2, meticulously rehearsed and deftly framed — that never leaves the eating desk.

“It immediately struck me that the most necessary and appropriate piece that one could possibly do at this particular moment in history would be a piece about two friends sitting and talking to each other,” Gregory writes within the preface to the revealed screenplay.

With Malle’s imaginative and prescient and Shawn and Gregory’s script and performance, the transgressive film became an indie triumph, still studied in film faculty and parodied in writers’ rooms 4 a long time later. Today, the pair stand as well timed avatars of our modern crises — Wally the Milquetoast and André the Pedant, chronically overthinking about overthinking.

The movie opens with Wally (as he’s called within the film), an underemployed actor and unfulfilled playwright, en path to dinner plans which he instantly regrets making: “I mean, I really wasn’t up for this sort of thing. I had problems of my own.”

Wally’s voice-over brings us up to hurry: Broadway is abuzz with rumors about the provocative director André Gregory, who deserted his thriving theater firm and was last seen crying on road corners, popping up in faraway international locations and residing with a Buddhist monk. Was it a nervous breakdown? A inventive block? A non secular awakening? All without delay? Wally is bamboozled into meeting together with his troubled work friend. To make the night worthwhile, he resolves to search out out as much as potential about the last few years of André’s life.

“You look terrific,” Wally says, half-surprised.

“Well, thank you,” André replies warmly. “I feel terrible.”

They each snort realizing it’s no joke. The small discuss ends on the two-top, and for the subsequent 90 minutes, André serves up long-winded epiphanies plucked from his world journeys involving New Age retreats and mystical shenanigans. Wally nods with, “And then what happened?” and “Wow!,” till the third act, when he erupts from his meals coma and asks if André actually needs to listen to what he thinks of all of it. Of course, André says, and so begins their philosophical Ping-Pong and pop culture’s biggest portrait of a midlife disaster.

Part satire, half autofiction, half confessional, “My Dinner With André” never loses the plot; it doesn’t have one to begin with. If that sounds boring, it’s as a result of it generally is. That was the purpose (or lack of it).

Like the quail they chew on in between monologues and digressions, Wally and André are an acquired style. Some call it boring, others say minimalist. Roger Ebert thought it was revelatory, the only movie “entirely devoid of clichés.”

My aunt Sue walked out of the theater. Where it falls in your Approval Matrix often is determined by who’s asking.

Whatever your urge for food, “My Dinner With André” is for artists. The intellectual, low-budget feature permitted generations of writers, administrators and actors to play with a type where much less is more. It became a blueprint for intimate, meandering movies like Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy; the navel-gazing mumblecore genre; and semi-autobiographical shows from “Curb Your Enthusiasm” to “Ramy.”

It’s also been spoofed and troped to death, used as a sort of shorthand for pretension. Look for the winks and allusions from “The Simpsons” and “Rick and Morty” to “Community” and “Frasier” to Andy Kaufman and Nick Kroll and John Mulaney (the checklist goes on). Your pop-culture literacy isn’t full with out it.

HBO Max, YouTube and TikTookay have launched a new viewers to the film. Young people particularly — the children of Sept. 11 and Covid-19 — will discover solidarity in Wally and André’s critiques of bourgeois ideology and late capitalism. It’s a minimum of worthwhile to see that people hated themselves before the web and social media. “Everyone is sort of floating through this fog of symbols and unconscious feelings: No one says what they’re really thinking about; they don’t talk to each other; because I think people are really in some sort of state of fear or panic about the world we’re living in,” André says.

Grief and anxiousness and rage construct up in a strain cooker till it inevitably detonates. The only way to course of all of it is thru “these completely insane jokes,” Wally says, as if predicting memes and trolls, an absurdist’s stage where politicians present leisure and comedians provide the information. What Bo Burnham calls “that funny feeling,” Wally and André had dissected 40 years earlier.

Most of us have gone on some kind of non secular or existential odyssey within the last 19 months. Some were André, burning all of it down within the title of development (and broadcasting it to anybody who would pay attention). Others were Wally, hiding beneath electrical blankets, an anodyne to the struggling of the world as a result of “our lives are tough enough as it is.” Most of us were each — self-aware sufficient to know what’s coming but not but courageous sufficient to get out.

Over a digestif, André concedes that his experimental antics have gotten previous within the same way his past life has, and he has ended up with more questions and torment than before. His struggles to search out that means have been in useless, like interrogating an unexamined life, or a ceaselessly warfare or a plague. When the test arrives, André pays, Wally splurges on a cab home and nothing is resolved. No moralizing or grand resolutions — simply malaise, the type you’re left with after you meet up with an previous friend who talks about himself the complete time.

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