Dinner with Friends (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

You have to give HBO a lot of credit, because their far-reaching marketing strategy is excellent. They manage to reach a wide audience without a mass-market strategy. They have a multiple-niche strategy which ends up producing some worthwhile material that could not otherwise find a home on film, and builds extremely loyal HBO fans. (Look what the contribution they have made tor gay-themed entertainment and stand-up comedy, for example)

In this case, it is a Pulitzer-winning four character play which is intelligently written, showing real people dissecting real issues with real words. In other words, box-office death.


Nothing worth mentioning. There is some very brief, very indistinct nudity - distant extras romping on the beach, and maybe the nudity is illusory.

Two couples have been hanging together for years. When one of them breaks up, it causes their relationships to shift. The situation is magnified by the fact that the intact couple originally introduced the other couple - the men were friends with each other before either couple was married, ditto the women. Well, the men thought they were friends, but after the divorce they find that they didn't really know each other that well. The women find resentments toward each other that they had not really been aware of. The married woman finds that she deeply hates the divorced man, only scant hours after admiring and loving him for 12 years. In the end, the married couple ends up learning more than they really wanted to know about the divorced couple, and the friendships fade. The married partners do get a chance to study the nature of long-term relationships, dissect why theirs seems to work, and think about how they could make it better.

Dennis Quaid turned in an especially solid performance in a role that required him to do a lot of reacting. Quaid's career has been underrated. Every time I see him in a role, he seems to deliver exactly what the character needs, but because he plays a lot of cocky pretty boys and smart-asses, he doesn't seem to get much recognition for what he can do. But it seems to me that he can do pretty much anything. In this film, he was the complete conservative, the one of the four in this film who wanted everything simply to continue the way it was, and for everybody to get along. He didn't want the other couple to give up on each other, and he didn't want his own wife to be so judgmental of the other guy, or so eager to re-examine their own marriage endlessly. In demonstrating his reactions, he had to show the other characters a superficial reaction, but had to simultaneously show us what he was really thinking. This is a very difficult role for any actor to portray with subtlety, and he handled it with aplomb, possibly even two plombs. Yup, two plombs up for Quaid.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.77:1

  • full-length director's commentary

  • no meaningful features

I understand that a movie with no action and constant real-life dialogue about divorce is not everyone's cup of tea, but it's a good stage play, HBO did their usual classy job in hiring good performers, commissioning the respected theatrical director Norman Jewison to direct it, and making it as interesting as was reasonably possible.

Although not a young man, Jewison is no washed-up fogey. His previous film was just a couple years ago, and was the highly touted "The Hurricane", for which he received a "best director" nomination from the Golden Globes.

The Critics Vote

  • filmcritic.com 3/5

The People Vote ...

IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C.

Return to the Movie House home page