Double Exposure: “My Dinner with Andre” (1981)

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Nova Clark, Editor-In-Chief

To appreciate “My Dinner with Andre,” to its fullest, you should begin by leaving your expectations at the door.

All you need know is its seemingly simple premise: Two modern-day playwrights have a conversation at a Manhattan restaurant, where virtually the entire film takes place. But it’s no ordinary conversation.

The friendly, personable Wallace Shawn (played by the actor of the same name) doesn’t know what to expect as he rides the subway en route to a dinner invitation from his eccentric colleague Andre Gregory (also played by the actor of the same name), who Wally had been avoiding “literally for years.”

After all, their lives couldn’t be more different: While Wally has been leading a relatively normal life with his girlfriend at their inner-city apartment, Andre — while maintaining the appearance of a clean-cut everyman — has been traveling the globe to indulge in transcendental experiences as a sort of midlife crisis attempt to find himself.

When the two meet and get seated at the restaurant, what starts as a series of elaborate anecdotes about Andre’s travels slowly devolves into a philosophical battle of wits that needs to be seen to be believed.

To Wally, Andre has his head in the clouds. To Andre, Wally isn’t living his life to the fullest. Can either man change the other’s mind? As the plot progresses, it becomes clear just how much their worldviews differ and a plethora of introspective points are raised along the way (is there no longer any hope for connecting with an audience? Do coincidences exist? Are people merely existing on autopilot?).

“My Dinner with Andre” is less of a film and more of an experience. It’s also one of the few flicks that acclaimed critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel both shared rave reviews about.

As Ebert pointed out, Andre is such an astute storyteller that the viewer is able to clearly visualize the yarns he spins without the need for separate scenes and expensive sets; a setup that harkens back to the days of the radio drama.

The film quite literally offers “food for thought” for anyone with even the slightest passing interest in those big philosophical questions that keep you up at night. If you haven’t seen “My Dinner with Andre,” do yourself a favor and cross this gem off of your cinematic bucket list.