What is the most awkward experience you can have? Dinner parties. Just ask The Office (honestly one of the funniest episodes of television I have ever seen). For some reason, things always get weird when it comes to getting together at someone’s house for dinner. That dinner party will be particularly awkward if it is ANYTHING like the dinner party at the center of this new thriller. Clocking in around 60-minutes, An Exquisite Meal is one of the most uncomfortable cinematic experiences I have had in 2021. That is (mostly) a good thing.
So, what is the set up? Robert Bruce Carter weaves a stuffed screenplay with plenty of characters and connections between them. Dave (Mike Jimerson) and Irene (Amrita Dhaliwal) are hosting a dinner party at their home. Dave is hard to process as he is SO aggressive with everything. You also get a sense that he even gets on Irene’s nerves. She is suspicious of Dave and his liking of their friend Annie (Emily Marso). When Annie arrives, there is some sexual tension between her and Dave (awkward longing stare). Then you have Beth (Victoria Nugent) and Mark (Ross Magyar) …their marriage is interesting to say the least. You can pick up quickly that Beth is disgusted by Mark and has wandering eyes. Throw in an interloper who is most likely a thief (Mark Pracht) and a suspicious Frenchman (Bassam Abdelfattah) and you have such a weird crew of despicable characters.
But what is the story? Basically, this film just turns into a continuous stream of awkward encounters. But it certainly escalated well beyond that. There are characters that are no who they seem (one of which the audience is made aware of already). Thing get aggressive at times and at others it gets sexually tense. There are actions that some of the characters make that will have lasting effects on others. The common tension though is the food. Dave insists that he is a “chef” …but there seems to be no food. Where is it? That is the million-dollar question and all the characters quickly become “hangry”. By the end of the film, you will honestly not believe what you just watched.
This film is so crazy, what is the tone like? Carter makes sure that his audience knows to not take this film too seriously. Most of the actors are overacting for laughs (it had to be the direction, right?) Jimerson is almost yelling all his lines and I thought his eyes were going to pop out. The camera is also conveying a humorous tone with one sequence of sharp zoom in on all the actors each making knowing stares into the camera. Everyone should just start winking at the camera with how silly things become.
But does this all come together for a satisfying experience? An Exquisite Meal is not quite exquisite, but it does deliver a crazy ride. You might not feel too connected to any of the characters and the plot might be light, but this is the type of car crash that is too hard to look away from. This is a ridiculous film…that needs to be experienced.