Thursday, June 30, 2016

A bad month for dinner parties

I've just watched the second of two movies this June in which people get invited to a dinner party that goes disastrously wrong.

It's not a particularly common theme for a movie, but it has cropped up twice in June.

The movie I just watched (Sunday being "just") is Karyn Kusama's The Invitation, which features a man invited to the home of his ex-wife and her new partner for a dinner party. He's bringing his new girlfriend, so the dynamics between exes are balanced, but there's a past trauma between them that promises to have something to do with why the dinner party is being held. Other mutual friends are there ... as well as two decidedly unusual strangers.

The Invitation is from 2016. The movie I watched back on June 7th is from 54 years before that. That's Luis Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel, in which two dozen Mexican aristocrats attend a dinner party in an opulent mansion. The evening gets off to an unusual start when all the servants find themselves compelled to leave, upending decorum completely even though they can't explain why they're doing it. Then the guests find themselves unable to leave -- in fact, unable even to step outside the bounds of one particular part of the mansion. It isn't until the next day, after they have all inexplicably violated decorum by sleeping on the floor, that they start to really address what is happening to them.

That's all I'll tell you about either movie. Their joys are bound up in the discovery of what happens along the way.

But it did get me thinking that I find this dynamic particularly compelling for a movie -- people show up for a dinner party, and things they could never have imagined start happening. So I've decided to list five other movies I like with similar things going on.

1. It's a Disaster (2012, Todd Berger) - The end of the world strikes while some friends are throwing a dinner party. As they are so caught up in their own squabbles and interpersonal dynamics, they don't even notice it's happening or give much credence to the obvious warning signs. The movie goes off the rails a bit in the third act, but before then it's a great satire of modern, self-absorbed white people.

2. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972, Luis Bunuel) - Bunuel did like his frustrated dinner parties and satires of the upper class, didn't he? In this one, which is less narratively straightforward than The Exterminating Angel and but more straightforward in the ways it's funny, the dinner party guests are repeatedly thwarted in their attempts to eat, across what seems to be several different dinner parties. Reality goes kind of in and out of focus in this one, so it's hard to say for sure.

3. Clue (1985, Jonathan Lynn) - You all know the board game, so you know that someone ends up dead. However, who it is depends on which ending you got. At the time it played theaters, different theaters actually got one of three different endings to the film -- which must have made it problematic for a critic to offer a definitive review. I watched this again a couple years ago, and it's a hoot. Great cast.

4. Rope (1946, Alfred Hitchcock) - I had forgotten until I did a little research that the anarchists at the center of this film, after killing someone just to see if they can, then hide his body in a trunk that is used as a buffet table for dinner party guests. I am definitely due for a rewatch of one of my top three Hitchock films, which I haven't seen in more than 20 years.

5. Gosford Park (2001, Robert Altman) - I didn't immediately think of this one as it's more of a whole weekend than a single dinner party, but it's similar to Clue in that a bunch of upper class folks come together in a big mansion and someone ends up dead. This was my favorite movie from 2001 and was essentially the template for Downton Abbey (Julian Fellowes was intimately involved in both), so if you haven't seen it you should.

That's all for now. Have to pick up a bottle of wine for this weird party I got invited to at the house of an ex-girlfriend ... I swear I heard she had gone crazy ...

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