A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
Someone asked me the other day if I could name a movie that was entirely devoid of clichés. I thought for a moment, and then answered, “My Dinner With Andre.” Now I have seen the movie again; a restored print is going into release around the country, and I am impressed once more by how wonderfully odd this movie is, how there is nothing else like it. It should be unwatchable, and yet those who love it return time and again, enchanted.
The title serves as a synopsis. We meet the playwright Wallace Shawn, on his way to have dinner with “a man I'd been avoiding, literally, for a matter of years.” The man is Andre Gregory, a well-known New York theater director. Gregory had dropped out of sight, Shawn tells us, and there were reports that he was “traveling.” Then one evening recently, a friend had come across him in Manhattan, leaning against a building and weeping. Gregory had just come from an Ingmar Bergman movie, and was shattered by this dialogue: “I could always live in my art, but not in my life.”
Wally and Andre meet, sit down, talk for almost two hours. As in all conversations, the tide of energy flows back and forth, but mostly it is Andre doing the talking, and Wally the listening. Wally is a man who likes to wrap himself in cozy domesticity. He is round, earnest, squinting; the character he played in “Manhattan” was described by Woody Allen as a “homunculus”--one of those little men in bottles in the laboratory of Dr. Praetorious. His father, William, was for many years the editor of the New Yorker. “When I was young and rich,” he says, “all I thought about was art and music. Now I'm 36, and all I think about is money.” His friend Andre is tall, thin, angular. He has returned from far-off lands with strange tales, which he relates with twinkling eagerness.
We listen with Wally as Andre tells of trips to Tibet, the Sahara and a mystical farm in England. Of being buried alive and conducting theatrical rituals by moonlight in Poland. Of being in church when “a huge creature appeared with violets growing out of its eyelids, and poppies growing out of its toenails.” After this last statement, Wally desperately tries to find a conversational segue and seizes on the violets. “Did you ever see that play `Violets Are Blue'?” he asks. “About people being strangled on submarines?”