There’s something so amusing about watching a handful of friends (or complete strangers) sit down and have a seemingly pleasant meal crumble before their eyes. I don’t know what it is about that situation that I enjoy so much, but below are my favorite film dinner parties gone wrong. I’ve taken liberties with some inclusions here; most occur over the course of an evening, some are spread out for a weekend. Few are about the food, many are about awkward social conventions.
The Last Supper actually contains a series of dinner parties in which five insanely judgmental liberals make a habit of inviting radical conservatives over for a meal, and poising them just before dessert. The liberals hear the views of their respective guests (including an ex-soldier, a priest, and a Neo-Nazi) before agreeing to murder them and bury their remains in the back yard. The Last Supper is a pitch black comedy that, while far from a perfect film, is certainly good for a few laughs. And the ending is pretty tops, too.
Stanley Kramer’s socially conscious and extremely audacious film is interesting because it’s about the anticipation of a dinner party, as opposed to the actual meal itself. When a young, white, free spirited young woman introduces her kind, black, doctor fiancé to her parents, everyone waits to see how everyone else will respond. And when his parents are also brought into the mix, the stakes are raised exponentially, resulting in a fitting conclusion that still gives me chills of joy to this day.
Murder by Death and Clue are intentionally hammed-up spoofs of whodunit thrillers. The former features an amazing cast (Truman Capote, Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, David Niven, Maggie Smith, to name just a few), and is modeled, in part, on the work of Agatha Christie. Clue is modeled, in part, off Murder by Death, and, of course, the board game of the same name. Both films belong to the same family, and would make for an excellent (and damn silly) double feature.
Jackie-O (Parker Posey) is many things. Spoiled rotten, obsessed with the JFK assassination, and oddly fascinated with her twin brother, Marty. Oh, and she’s batshit crazy to boot. So when Marty brings his new fiancée home for Thanksgiving, Jackie-O attempts to appease her shock and disgust but setting in motion a ruthless scheme to end their relationship. Again, The House of Yes isn’t really about the dinner party, but rather, what the formation of the dinner party causes those involved to do.
House on Haunted Hill is a timeless horror camp classic. Radical millionaire playboy Frederick Loren (Vincent Price, never better) invites five strangers over for a party he’s throwing for his wife. The party is taking place in a supposed haunted house, and if any of the guests survive the night, Loren will give them each $10,000. My dad showed me this movie when I was about six years old, and I’ve been in love with it ever since. Let the games begin.
You and the Night is a sexy French surrealist comedy that, despite being a success on the festival circuit last year, failed to find theatrical distribution. This is a damn shame, as You and the Night is one of the finest modern mindfuck films I’ve seen. The movie is about a young couple (who may or may not be ghosts) who invite four strangers over for an orgy. Most of the movie takes place in just one room, with occasional interludes set in purposefully low-brow (but stunning) interior locations. The film is directed by Yann Gonzalez, brother of M83 frontman Anthony Gonzalez, who created an astonishing original score for the movie. According to Amazon, You and the Night is being released on DVD Oct. 14. I give it my highest recommendation, and not just because I’m an M83 fanatic. It truly is a unique and visually breathtaking film.
When Yann Gonzalez made You and the Night, he said his two biggest influences were The Breakfast Club and Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. A fitting tribute if there ever was one. One could write a book as to what in the hell The Discreet Charm is about, but, essentially, the film concerns itself with a handful of wealthy people who, despite their best efforts, are unable to sit down and have a meal together. This being the world of Luis Buñuel, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie doesn’t make traditional narrative sense, but there’s a reason why it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Several reasons, actually.
3. Rope (1948)
I’ve written about Rope many times on this blog, mainly because I find it to be a continually arresting visual exercise. The film is best known for containing just 10 editing cuts, most of which director Alfred Hitchcock tried to conceal so the film looked as though it ran for 80 uncut minutes. The film begins with two preppy students killing their former classmate, for no other reason than they think they can get away with it. They hide the body in a large chest and proceed to have a dinner party, in which the chest is used as a buffet table for food. Rope is Hitch at his most playfully macabre, and, of course, technically brilliant.
2. The Rules of the Game (1939) / Gosford Park (2001)
Two of the finest upstairs/downstairs films ever made are split apart by more than 60 years, but, amazingly, that matters little. Both films are as relevant and intriguing as they were at the times of their respective releases. Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game is the prototype of every other comedy of manners film that followed, and, simply put, Robert Altman’s Gosford Park is the finest such film that did follow.
If you’ve seen Midnight in Paris, perhaps you remember Owen Wilson’s character giving the director Luis Buñuel a tip for a film about several strangers who can’t seem to leave a house after attending a dinner party. The Exterminating Angel is the film Wilson’s character was describing, and it is without question my favorite dinner party gone wrong film. Much like the other Buñuel film on this list, The Exterminating Angel doesn’t exactly make sense, but rarely is surrealist cinema as wonderful as it is here. The plot description is exactly what it sounds like, and not much more. A handful of wealthy dinner guests conclude their meal in a lavish home, and retire to the music room for a nightcap. Once the night should seemingly come to a close, everyone moves to the floor to sleep, as opposed to heading to the door to exit. This goes on for days, much to the confusion and frustration of those inside the room (and their friends and family outside). I love the intentionally nonsensical nature of The Exterminating Angel. It’s second only to Belle de jour as my favorite Buñuel picture.
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