There was in France a game in which a group of friends would meet for dinner. Each would bring an idiot and the competition, waged without the idiots knowing about it, was to determine who had brought the biggest idiot. Writer/director Francis Veber, who also penned LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, has gifted us with his take on this blood sport and given us a wicked spin on the nature of idiocy with THE DINNER GAME. It’s a complete delight.
The idiot seeker is Brochard, a handsome wealthy ad man with a penchant for humiliating others. He’s charming, smooth, suave, and vile. The idiot is Pignon, an oaf with a penchant for forcing strangers to admire photographs of his matchstick sculptures. Oddly enough, though, he’s never anything but bumbling, boring, and socially inept, he’s also never anything but sympathetic. Still, truth be told, you probably wouldn’t want to spend time with either of them, and that makes for some interesting dynamics. Especially when things go so very, very wrong for Brochard. Or right. Depending on your Karmic point of view.
It’s completely fascinating how with sweet, guileless innocence Pignon, by trying to help Brochard with the calamities coming thick and fast upon him, trashes Brochard’s existence with a finesse and finality that would impress a Borgia. But, if Brochard’s life weren’t already in complete disarray, there?s not much a designated idiot could have done. So who, in the final analysis, is the real idiot?
Now, in a merely average film, this would be the whole film, sweet idiot and clever cad at cross-purposes and it might be fun, but this is no average film. Veber has given these characters more than two dimensions and that makes the proceedings even more fun because, suddenly, we have an emotional stake in what happens to both of them. Pignon has a sweetly sad history that includes a wife he adored absolutely who left him out of boredom. As for Brochard, his wife, whom he adores, leaves him out of disgust. She detested his little hobby and dumps him via the answering machine. The look on Brochard?s face as she guts him with a few well-chosen words actually inspires pity. It is key that both actors are so adept.
Brochard, in the person of Thierry L’Hermite, is handsome in that particularly Gallic way, all piercing blue eyes, crooked grin, slim hips and devastating derriere. Mean, sure, but oh la la, so sexy. Pignon, in the less prepossesing person of Jacques Villeret, is adorable in the way a pudgy, unkempt koala bear would be. He’s a nudge, but he’s so cute.
THE DINNER GAME is a funny and smart film. It may be silly, but it’s never stupid.