Dinner: The Ultimate Hangout Movie

What is a “dating movie?” While it might be a little hard to define, there are a few common characteristics that most dating movies share – the emphasis on well-drawn characters over plot, reliance on conversational dialogue to drive the action, a lightness of tone and stories that are often (but not always) about young people discovering their lives. Hangout movies also tend to have this general feeling that when you watch them, you’re not just witnessing contrived plot points happening to these characters, but you’re hanging out with them for a brief window as you watch them. going through a pivotal moment in their lives. It’s hard to think of a movie that embodies the hideout movie as much as it dinnera film that celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and has had a subtle but substantial influence on the hangout genre in the decades since its release.


A thing that does dinner such a pivotal dating movie is how seemingly weak the plot is, and yet how it manages to weave all these different arcs for each character as the film progresses. dinner takes place between Christmas and the New Years of 1959 in that specific corner of Baltimore where six childhood friends spend the week hanging out in various capacities but always seem to end up at their local diner. The fact that one of these guys, Eddie (Steve Guttenberg), is about to get married, which goes a long way to explaining how his restaurant buddies struggle to embrace adulthood while unable to resist the playful immaturity of hanging out with their old pals in their old haunts.

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Corn dinner came just at the start of a golden era for the hideout movie, it was far from the first film to embrace this kind of shaggy, character-driven aesthetic. With its similar abundance of future stars and also set at this time before the cozy conformity of the 50s turned into the turbulence of the 60s, dinnerthe closest descendant is that of 1973 american graffiti. You can also see traces of the haunt film in many other 1970s New Hollywood films, which often emphasize character more than plot, whether Jack Nicholson vehicles like Five easy pieces Where Flight over a cuckoo’s nestor the twists and turns of the ensemble films of Robert Altman. However, unlike many of those 70s movies, dinner (and other dating movies of its day) weren’t about antiheroes who embodied the seedier side of American culture. They were characters in which you could recognize your own friends, even if a movie like dinner is incredibly specific to its time and place.

Image Via MGM/United Artists Distribution and Marketing

The location, 1950s Baltimore, was all too familiar to the director Barry Levinsonwho had grown up in Baltimore and would shoot three of his next films (tin men, Avalonand Heights of Liberty) the. However, he had spent most of the 70s in Los Angeles, working on various television sketches and variety shows as a writer and occasionally an actor, eventually co-writing and making small appearances in the Mel Brooks movies strong anxiety and Silent movie. According to Levinson, Brooks was actually the one who encouraged him to put the stories he told of the guys he grew up with in a restaurant into a script. After writing the screenplay, Levinson decided to try directing the film himself despite having no directing experience, wanting to be able to recreate his own memories on screen with as much vividness and detail as possible. .

It’s in this liveliness and detail that you get a lot of the film’s charm, tapping into the idea that the more you do a specific story, the more universal it becomes. A lot of that specificity is in the banter that occurs between the characters when they hang out at the restaurant as well as the various other shenanigans they get into. There is one particular scene where the group of guys are discussing whether they prefer Frank Sinatra Where Johnny Mathis, which absolutely feels like a precursor to the kinds of pithy, pop culture-heavy dialogue that Hollywood would be awash with in later decades. But here, it feels like a completely natural extension of the characters’ interactions and their tunnel vision of what’s really important in their world. This is also why dinner embodies a certain type of dialogue that would become predominant in the modern haunt film, sounding not quite as manicured as the witty writing of classic Hollywood screenplays, but tinged with a sort of middle-class banality that is nevertheless a pleasure to listen to the actors debit.

No matter how good the script is for dinner that is to say, it’s still hard to imagine the film would do as well if it didn’t have the cast it compiled. A little like american graffiti before (and Dazed and confused after), it’s a film that contains a miraculously talented group of young actors who were all more or less unknown at the time, featuring the likes of mickey rourke, Kevin Bacon, Paul Reiser, Daniel Stern, Tim Dalyand Ellen Barkin. Levinson reportedly forced the actors to spend as much time together as possible before filming, and you can feel that sense of camaraderie between the actors as they must evoke the idea that they grew up together and knew each other their entire lives. So, despite whatever inexperience Levinson may have had as a director at the time, the sharpness of the script combined with the raw talent of the cast makes this the kind of flash-in-a-bottle filmmaking hard to track down.

Image Via MGM/United Artists Distribution and Marketing

As likable as the film and its characters are, dinner is a movie that feels a bit odd to be praised now when it’s such a “dude movie,” which makes its subject matter perhaps not seem inherently vital. Plus, there’s dialogue in the film where the characters have, let’s say, less-than-sophisticated ways of talking about women. However, the film would be dishonest if it rewrote history to make these guys more enlightened than one would expect from a typical group of young men in the 1950s, especially when the film is about them having to do this leap from their immature teens. to an adult life full of responsibilities. dinner also feels like a powerful snapshot of its time, as it’s decidedly not a nostalgia piece, often showing that while they’re irreverently having fun, their lives aren’t all fries and gravy, each of them. ‘between them dealing with their own personal issues, including gambling debt, alcoholism, an unexpected pregnancy and marital strife. It’s the way the film navigates the heights of male camaraderie, but also its aftermath that makes dinner also feeling like a precursor to another subgenre, “bromantic comedy”.

When it was released in 1982, dinner did not make a huge dent in the US box office, perhaps due to his studio, MGM, not being very interested in promoting a movie full of unknowns and very little catchy premise. Still, the film was impactful enough to earn Barry Levinson a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination while setting him and the film’s stars on the path to becoming mainstays of film and TV. in the 80s and 90s. There also seemed to be something in the air at the time, yearning for the same dialogue-driven stories and minimal plot that would further establish the dating movie. This will show up in other mid-budget movies like Fast times at Ridgemont High (which would be released 6 months later dinner) as well as The big thrill, which will be released a year later. There were also relaxing movies like the ones from 1984 stranger than heaven are making their way into the independent space as well as a Gen-X defining hit in the form of The breakfast club.

Image Via MGM/United Artists Distribution and Marketing

As the ’80s turned to the ’90s, an even more plotless and comfortably laid-back decade, the haunt movie felt even more appropriate for the times. Some of the decade’s up-and-coming directors first made dating movies on a low budget that would allow them to make studio-backed films in the same vein, like Richard Linklater first production Lazy before Dazed and confused and before sunrise Where Kevin Smith with Clerks before Mallrats and Chasing Amy. Perhaps the most famous instigator of the 90s movie boom was Quentin Tarantinowho recognized the existence of the “haunt film” as a subgenre in the interviews and introduced the phrase into the vernacular of moviegoers in the process. You also had the greatest sitcom of the 90s, Seinfeldturning banter and decidedly low-stakes intrigue into an art form, while its East Coast aesthetic and the fact that much of it takes place in a restaurant can’t help but resemble the Barry Levinson film. .

While the dating movie hasn’t felt as mainstream since the late ’90s, sometimes you’ll get a great one once in a while, like Sean Bakercasual evocations of the fringes of society as Mandarin and The Florida Project or Paul Thomas Anderson’s recent Licorice Pizza. Also, whether any new dating movies come to fruition is kind of irrelevant, because the good thing about any worthwhile dating movie is that it’ll probably hold up even better on subsequent viewings, because you’re probably less focused about the plot than about spending time with the characters in the movie after not seeing them in a while. Much like an old hangout in your hometown, these movies will always be there as a place you can come back to for comfort whenever you want. As Steve Guttenberg’s Eddie puts it when reflecting on the uncertainty of his future, “at least we’ll still have dinner.”

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