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RS 29—Beyond Words: “Old Joy” and “My Dinner with André”

RS 29—Beyond Words: "Old Joy" and "My Dinner with André"

In one of his Great Movies essays, Roger Ebert says that My Dinner with André was the first title that came to mind when a friend asked him if he could name a film that was entirely devoid of clichés. It’s an apt enough observation, except for the fact that at this point, thirty years after helping to usher in the American indie boom by proving that two characters trading dialogue in close-up could be the stuff of both compelling drama and robust per-screen grosses, Louis Malle’s film has, by no fault of its own, become a cliché: the celluloid gabfests against which all others are measured. Not to mention the subject of thirty years’ worth of variably executed parodies, from Andy Kaufman’s sweet short feature My Breakfast with Blassie, in which the late comedian took the Wallace Shawn role opposite pro wrestling legend “Classy” Fred Blassie as a roughneck version of André Gregory) to the recent Community episode “Critical Film Studies,” a well-played piece of pop culture riffage that has itself become a sort of conversation piece (Matt Zoller Seitz’s excellent appraisal in Salon can be found here).

My Dinner with André is famous enough, in fact, that even those who haven’t seen it have some idea of its contents: a pair of old friends (Shawn and Gregory, who wrote the script and named the characters after themselves) who haven’t spoken in a long time play catch up over the course of a single evening in a New York City restaurant. This simple description of course belies the complexity of their exchange, which takes up ninety percent of the film’s running time. Read the rest of Adam Nayman’s entry in Reverse Shot’s Stuck in the Middle symposium.

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