Le dîner de cons (The Dinner Game)

Directed by Francis Veber
Starring: Jaques Villeret, Thierry Lhermitte, Francis Huster, Alexandra Vandernoot.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language.

Review by Matt Heffernan
August 15, 1999

In the tradition of Molière, the French theatre and cinema continue the art of the farce. Few hold a candle to the works of the great master, but sometimes they get it right, even today.

Francis Veber directs his own adaptation of his play Le dîner de cons (literally "The Dinner of Idiots") for the screen. Jaques Villeret reprises his award-winning role as François Pignon, a "world champion idiot" by the standards of several people. Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte), an overgrown frat boy, attends a weekly dinner at his friend's house. The event is called "The Dinner of Idiots", the object being to bring the biggest idiot you can find. Another friend of Pierre meets François on a train, where he insists on showing photographs of his matchstick replicas of famous structures (the Eiffel Tower being his masterpiece).

Pierre invites François to his house to meet him before the dinner. But before he arrives, he injures his back playing golf, and to top it off, his wife (Alexandra Vandernoot) leaves him. The idiot arrives, but they are unable to attend until next week, when Pierre's back heals. While Pierre escorts François out, they fall, and his back becomes worse. He has François call his doctor, but he dials his mistress by mistake. After that, one mishap after another occurs, mostly because of the foolishness of François.

For the last few years, American film has been filled with "stupid" movies like Dumb and Dumber and The Waterboy. The Dinner Game succeeds where many of these films fail. Villeret is brilliant as the idiot. Every mannerism and expression is precisely idiotic. François isn't supposed to be mentally challenged, he just does stupid things, but there is a real human attribute to the character. We eventually understand his behavior, and even sympathize with him.

Lhermitte plays a wonderful straight man. He is under complete agony througout the film, either from his back, his wife, or François. But he isn't as sympathetic. We begin to see the meanness that caused his wife to leave him. I didn't exactly root for them to get back together. He does genuinely care for her, but she'd be nuts to go back to him. I would have probably been happier if she ran off with François.

This film won three César Awards (the French Oscars) this year, including awards for Villeret and Daniel Prévost, who had a small role as a tax auditor. I wouldn't want to say any more about his character, which would be a spoiler. The other award was for Veber's screenplay adaptation. After the success of Life is Beautiful, perhaps the American academy will be more open to foreign films.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Le dîner de cons (1998)

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The Dinner Game (1998) - English Subtitles -- VHS
The Dinner Game (1998) -- DVD

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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan