The Heart of Punk – Dinner in America (2022)

I enjoy being disarmed by films. It reminds me that for every cash grab, for every empty vessel, there’s an alternative out there going about things differently. Dinner in America is a punk-rock love story but also a telling metaphor about the value of artistic integrity and staying true to one’s self through tumultuous times.

A punk rocker is laying low to avoid the cops when he stumbles upon a young woman who had just been laid off from her crumby pet shop job. Together they embark on a journey of comedy and mischief, that leads to an unexpected romance.

This film was a lot more charming than I expected and it earns that the hard way. Adam Rehmeier’s script goes through the trenches and dirties itself up with purpose. It’s a little rough at the outset, but that’s by design because the main character needs to be abrasive in order to make the arc payoff. It’s a trend I have seen more of and I think that’s because it’s a bigger challenge to gradually make a course character likable but the payoff is better if you can get there, and Rehmeier pulled that off by using several of the supporting characters as ballast. 

Adam Rehmeier with his cast (photo: Deadline)

We first meet Simon as a participant in a drug trial. At first, it seems like he may even be in an asylum setting but the clinical environment helps to establish him as someone who clearly doesn’t fit in. His distaste for authority is punctuated with some profanity right away and we are off to the races. Rehmeier follows that brooding intensity through the whole character intro and bounces that off some very, let’s call them, colorful characters. It signals that the world around Simon may warrant the kind of response he gives back to it.

Gallner had that crazy looked nailed down

All of those bold character choices are played with genuine sincerity by Kyle Gallner. Everything he does, from his walk to his posture at the dinner table to the crazy eyes you see above, is done with purposeful intent. His commitment to that is sharp but it’s important that the character doesn’t waver. Gallner has been refining his skills for a long time and it was great to see him showcase his range and depth in this role. I get the feeling that Kyle will be a busy guy in the near future.

As you can see, the character demeanor is the exact opposite from Skeggs during her character intro

Opposite Gallner is Emily Skeggs as the very awkward Patty. She has a tendency to get shit on by everyone for that reason but, underneath, she’s a rebel at heart. She is a tad oblivious and naive, and Skeggs has a lot of fun bringing that to life. She put a lot of physicality into the role as well, different than we get from Gallner, but it’s her facial expressions that do wonders for emoting key elements of the story. In the scheme of the plot, she does a fantastic job of carrying the sympathetic burden.

One of my other favorite subtleties of this film was its refusal to nail down a finite period through conventional methods and I credit Francesca Palombo’s Production Design for that. It is a contemporary setting and you can pick up on that with some context clues but there are elements of the 70s, 80s, and 90s in there as well, reflected in the set decoration by Katherine Reed and the costumes by Anais Castaldi and Hannah Greenblatt. It was especially nice to see a modern film that intentionally avoided elements that have just become common crutches to a degree. It added an extra layer of challenge to the storytelling but more importantly, by blending all those period elements, it becomes a story that’s able to span generations much more effectively. 

This is a great shot to summarize the energy

I never expected to like this film as much as I did and it took some time to find its stride when it came to tone, but it won me over hard. There’s one scene in particular, right around the border of acts 2 & 3, where all the establishing work comes together and just nails it. The song in that scene, and the way it smoothes out the emotion it expresses on behalf of two awkward and clunky young adults, epitomizes what the film is really all about. It could certainly become a cult hit for a new generation.

Recommendation: See it for its excellent lead performances and for its adhesion to an identity that’s keenly aware of its space between genres. Stay for the infectious tune.

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