Melvin Goes To Dinner
People who create brilliant works invariably have to live with the expectations of continued brilliance that can be difficult or impossible to fulfill. Bob Odenkirk and David Cross learned this the hard way when Run Ronnie Run!, the movie spin-off of their hilarious television masterpiece Mr. Show, was taken out of their hands before being unceremoniously dumped on video-store shelves. Run Ronnie Run! needed to be only half as funny as Mr. Show to be funnier and smarter than just about anything released in the years between its completion and its direct-to-video burial. It wasn't, though it's worth watching just for Mandy Patinkin's transcendent cameo. Neither is Melvin Goes To Dinner, Odenkirk's directorial debut, but the two projects are so dissimilar that it almost seems unfair to compare them. A low-budget independent comedy-drama, Dinner stars Michael Blieden (who also adapted his own play and edited the film) as an aimless young man who joins friend Matt Price for dinner and ends up having a long, lively conversation with two additional companions (Annabelle Gurwitch and Stephanie Courtney) about matters ranging from the mundane to the profound. As the evening progresses, the increasingly inebriated conversation takes dark and ribald turns, with the four confiding the sort of intimate details most people won't admit even to themselves, leading to a climactic revelation that the film telegraphs well in advance. In a fine debut, Odenkirk coaxes excellent performances from his semi-unknown leads, as well as from a supporting cast familiar to Mr. Show fans–including an unbilled Jack Black, who cameos as a polite lunatic who subjects Blieden to a funny monologue about being the "Creatress" of the world. Through jittery editing, flashbacks, documentary-style camerawork, and inspired use of stills, Odenkirk ultimately renders a surprisingly cinematic product out of four people talking in one location for 80 minutes.