My Dinner with Andre ★★★★½

I expected this to be a "neat" movie with novelty as its main attraction. A movie I would watch, say "oh hey cool never seen something like that before" and move on. But to my surprise, this is a pretty dang legitimate movie. Not just an aimless but interesting conversation filmed, but a real story with a beginning, middle, and end, with clear arcs and conflict. Not only that, it captivates with strong performances, intelligent and articulate characters, and a real purpose behind its choice of presentation.

The story is how the conversation evolves, how Wally, the main character, gradually engages in the conversation, and how the conversation changes him. The conversation isn't random; it goes from small-talk to catching up to ideological debate and personal connection. Andre's stories are entertaining on their own, alternating between funny, inspiring, sad, and intense, but they aren't told for their own sake. They set up his character, provide the basis for later ideas, and reveal Wally's skepticism. The debate, too, doesn't just exist so the movie can tell us some neat ideas, but rather serves as a conflict between the characters and a way for Wally to grow. I could go on like this, but really I just want to communicate that this movie really does operate in the same way as a regular one, with set ups and payoffs and arcs and all that, it just does so brilliantly and subtly through an extended dialogue.

But what justifies this story being told in such a way? Well, the main ideas in the movie are pretty much connecting with other people and breaking free from the "dream world", the world where you can only think of your problems, where you don't recognize the reality of things around you. So essentially the movie just points the cameras at these two people and makes you connect with them directly, without showing real action or movement or locations, just two people existing and talking. We begin the movie skeptical just as Wally does. He looks at Andre through the lens of his own problems, and treats him as a bit of a madman. But he opens up, and we open up, and we see the reality of these two people, having been forced to just watch and listen to them talking in the same place for nearly 2 hours. The movie does do some subtle work to drag us out of the dream world, with closeups to involve us, the gradual loss of ambient noise as other patrons leave to isolate us, shots of the waiter to break up tension. It's all so natural and involving that by the end of the movie, the reintroduction of a world outside the table is truly powerful.

This is a small movie that just wants leave a little impression, but it's so affecting in its smallness that it ends up big. Other movies might try to convince you of grand ideas, convince you that people can turn their lives around, wow you with big moments, but this movie is so assured in changing you just a little that a musical cue and a reaction shot become more powerful than any explosion.