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Photo: ‘Dinner in America’
Originally released in 2020, ‘Dinner in America’ hit theaters on May 27th of 2022. Categorized as a comedy, this film follows Simon (portrayed by Kyle Gallner) and Patty (portrayed by Emily Skeggs). Simon is a stereotypical punk – he plays in a band, deals drugs, does drugs, and doesn’t go more than an hour without smoking a cigarette. Patty, on the other hand, is a 20-year-old pet store employee that gets bullied, lives in the decaying midwestern suburbs of America, and spends her free time writing love letters to a mysterious singer of a punk band. When their lives clash during a police chase, Patty lets Simon crash at her parents’ house to hide from the law. Over the course of a week, the two get to know each other in some unexpected ways.
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‘Dinner in America’ – Cult Classic
‘Dinner in America’ boldly claims the title of a cult classic, and in some ways, the film carries the potential of living up to that status. Utilizing the popular bad boy/good girl plotline and putting some rather interesting twists onto the cliche, the film establishes a familiar feel that is not entirely predictable.
A lot of elements of ‘Dinner in America’ are very well done. For example, the soundtrack fits the story in a way that is not overbearing but notable. The set decoration and locations work well for the characters and even help advance the plot. The acting is bright and faithful to the archetypes it’s portraying. This is a good quality film, there is no denying that. However, the film does not claim cult classic status for its quality. Instead, it places an emphasis on what it considers “dark humor”. Unfortunately, the meaning of that term has long been lost for ‘Dinner in America’.
Hatred Is Not Humor
As an autistic and queer individual, it was difficult to sit through two hours of rapid-fire ableist and homophobic slurs. I had truly lost count of how many times the f-slur or the r-slur were thrown out as the punchline to a joke or utilized to add “edge” to a scene. While the usage of these hateful terms was excused as “dark humor”, it is important to understand that this is not what dark humor is.
Generally speaking, dark humor is meant to make light of traumatic situations and is most commonly utilized as a coping mechanism. That is not what ‘Dinner in America’ was doing. These neurotypical, straight, cisgender characters do not have trauma that is associated with having a disability or being queer and therefore do not have the right to claim their usage of hateful slurs as humor. In fact, in no case is the usage of slurs comedic.
One of the most common justifications for the usage of slurs by people that do not have the right to reclaim them is the “edge” factor. This entails the use of slurs for the purpose of appearing edgy and funny. However, it is important to understand that there is nothing “edgy” about using terms that have long histories of being utilized to demean, belittle, and discriminate against marginalized people. It is not funny to be a hateful human being.
While I understand that it was not the intention of the film to be hateful, that was still the result. The context of slur usage is not relevant, we must do better to protect marginalized communities.
Despite its offensive nature, I still found this film enjoyable. There was a lot about ‘Dinner in America’ that was quite funny, partially due to the sheer amount of secondhand embarrassment that the viewer feels. The portrayal of the punk scene was fairly accurate, bringing a layer of authenticity to the story. The characters were funny takes on some classic stereotypes, and the general plot was easy to follow. I am not mad about this movie, however, the constant slur usage was just plain unnecessary. At no point was there any comedic value to the slur usage. At no point did it advance the plot or cause character development. At no point was it important to the story. I think that this movie could have very well been excellent if not for its fruitless attempts at being edgy. It could’ve even been a real cult classic contender.
The bottom line is – slurs aren’t funny. It is important to be considerate of people’s trauma with hate speech and discrimination. As someone that has struggled my entire life due to the misinformation and plain ignorance regarding my identities, I can say that this movie was difficult to watch at certain points. ‘Dinner in America’ very much felt like a privileged white man’s understanding of a comedy. So let me be frank – being offensive does not make you special. This is not a war on comedy. You are not a victim of society just because someone decided to correct your hateful actions. Please understand that if you want to be an ally to marginalized people.
So is ‘Dinner in America’ worth a watch? Weirdly enough, yes. It teaches its audience to stand up for themselves and live authentically – although in rather brute ways. While the film has rather prominent faults, most elements are well executed and back up the overarching themes of supporting yourself first. At just under two hours, this film is the perfect length and doesn’t feel too vague or too stretched out. It’s funny, the technical aspects are well executed, the plot is engaging, and does lead to a place of ultimate truth. This is not a bad movie, quite the opposite actually. Just remember that comedy films should not be a contest of who can be more offensive.
Watch ‘Dinner in America’ if you wish, don’t if you don’t. All I ask is that you remember – being respectful is hot.
Cast and Crew
By Micha Jones
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Micha Jones is a writer and aspiring television producer who is dedicated to education and equity. Writing review and feature articles for The Hollywood Insider, they focus on the ways in which media can tell marginalized stories. Through reflecting on the portrayal of social and environmental issues in TV and film, Micha aims to make positive changes in the entertainment industry. Micha’s work often carries The Hollywood Insider’s signature “mic-drop” perspectives and makes an effort to tell educational and socially progressive stories. They strongly believe in accurate representation in film and emphasize the power of the community.