The Dinner (2016) starring Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, & Rebecca Hall

[1] Nobody can accuse The Dinner of being unambitious, but I would like to accuse it of being an ambitious mess. 

[2] What happens when your are face to face with a clear moral dilemma? Can you bury your integrity in lies? Surely, such a deception will haunt you if you have a conscience. Self interest makes it harder to do the right thing, and this test will be faced by everyone at some point in their life.

[3] The enablers… are not helpful. They help perpetuate the problem via denial and/or self-interest. Unfortunately, this is how many families deal with mental illness: by winging it and not bothering to look up symptoms of abnormal and/or destructive behavior, and/or to consult with experts when these behaviors emerge.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

A former high school history teacher, Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan- an Englishman I’d only seen in Philomena) and his wife/cancer survivor, Claire (Laura Linney- one of my faves), meet at an exclusive restaurant w/ his older brother/congressman, Stan (Richard Gere), and his much younger wife, Kate (Rebecca Hall). Paul (who sees the negative side of life) obviously doesn’t want to be there; he has a very strained relationship w/ Stan and thinks that this food is extravagant. The plan is to discuss over dinner how to handle a crime committed by their teenage sons, Mike and Rick. We see in flashbacks the teens harassing a homeless woman, throwing garbage at her, then setting an ATM building on fire (w/ her inside). This was filmed, uploaded online (by Stan’s adopted black son- Beau), and made the local news. The boys have not been identified yet; the parents are very anxious about how this will affect their future.

Stan’s tireless assistant, Nina (Adepero Oduyo from 12 Years a Slave) is in the sitting room, holding his calls. Stan is a very busy man, running for governor and trying to pass a mental heath bill (partly b/c his own family has been affected by this issue). Kate is the one who truly knows Stan’s kids, as she has time for them (his ex-wife Barbara, played by Chloe Sevigny, has run away to India). We learn that the brothers’ mother was abusive, esp. to Paul. Stan was favored and had to be “the man of the house” (since their father was “checked out” emotionally). Paul lost his job after he lost his cool (in front of his class), cursing and insulting them. He was placed on meds, though stopped taking them (wanting to “feel like my old self”). Claire noticed that he was hiding the pills, yet didn’t say anything. 

This film has an interesting premise and tries to tackle big issues: morality, loyalty, mental illness, family dysfunction, and different fears (losing a spouse to illness, losing a child to jail, etc.) It’s not effectively put together, unfortunately. The sound design is bad (at times), the camera moves around (for no reason), and the editing is choppy. The characters turn out to be unlikable, yet not in an entertaining way. (A few viewers mentioned that the play Carnage tackles some of the same issues, but in a more interesting way.) The ending of the film is very abrupt- it’s as if the producers ran out of money! 

The author of the book “The Dinner” (Herman Koch) walked away from the European premiere of this film in early 2017. The Dutchman did not wish to stay for the after-party to talk to the director (Owen Moverman), cast members, or audience. Koch thought the scriptwriter had transferred his cynical story into a moral tale. He esp. disliked the movie’s reference to themes like American violence and the stigma of mental illness. A Dutch film came out in 2013, then an Italian one in 2014; both were well received and nominated for many awards.

I think it needed to be trimmed down. I loved the performances, esp. Rebecca Hall; I think she’s great in everything. I wasn’t bored. I was exasperated on some occasions. 

-Comments from Mark Kermode’s review (see below)


A Few Thoughts on Overbearing Parents

In a February 2013 article, “The Daily Mail” (UK) summarized the findings of a University of Mary Washington study conducted in the United States, then published online in the Journal of Child and Family Studies. Study participants were college students between 18 and 23 years of age who had overbearing parents as children. The researchers said parental involvement was important, but too much increased a child’s likelihood of suffering depression and decreased their satisfaction with life and ability to get along with other people.

“Parents should keep in mind how developmentally appropriate their involvement is and learn to adjust their parenting style when their children feel that they are hovering too closely,” lead researcher Holly Schiffrin said in a media release.

“There is a lot of pressure involved with helicopter parenting –– it affects the children’s self esteem and confidence because they are not given the opportunity to develop themselves,” she said.

“Children learn that behaviour too, so they mirror it in their adult own relationships, which can be problematic.”

Hamilton said it’s understandably difficult for modern parents to protect their children from danger but also help them develop independence.

Here are a few thoughts I found (via online research): 

Strict parents steal your confidence, they don’t let you develop properly and find your inner self. They make it difficult for you to be an adult who knows what he or she wants you are so scared to have an opnion of your own. It affects your relationships with boyfriends and mates. As you are afraid to speak out for yourself… Emotionally you can’t develop into a strong well balanced person if your parents are shadowing your every more. It instills fear at times and there are enough things in life that are scary without having your parents stop you from becoming as wonderful as you can be by controlling your every move. The control mechanisim is done out of fear, and insecurity on their part. It is sad to think that they are so confused this way, but, unfortunately, it has life long effects, if they are not taught to be better parents.

-Australian, female, aged 45-50 (The Experience Project)

It makes them [children] rebel and then it also stagnates them from making the real decisions they need to make when they are free of their parents because they always doubt themselves. To this day, I am always looking for acceptance and always second guessing myself because my parents were always so on top of me. It’s like you don’t want them on top of you to begin with, but then when they aren’t anymore, you don’t even know what to do with yourself, you don’t even trust your own judgement, because they always told you you were wrong.

-American, female, 30s (The Experience Project)

Let me first explain how I define emasculated.  Many people define emasculated as an overly controlling guy, who suddenly has to work for a female manager, and now he feels “emasculated.” That’s just one definition, but it misses the bigger point.

Here’s how I understand it. There are a few ways a guy can be emasculated:
1. Overbearing father
2. Overbearing mother
3. Overbearing religion

When men have controlling fathers, the effects manifest themselves in a few ways. They become controlling, too. As soon as they get out on their own, they decide they will never be dominated again, and seek to dominate. They can also go the opposite way. They see how much pain a domineering alpha male wannabe causes at home, and they want nothing to do with it.

When men have controlling mothers, even those who do this out of love, it has the same effect. However, it also creates resentment. You will see unexplained hostility toward women. When a woman asks a guy for a simple favor, he gets upset. If she dares ask him to do something that is expected in traditional roles, like repairing something, he boils over. He alternately needs her approval, but he resents the fact that he’s a mama’s boy because everybody sees it. If they don’t see it, he thinks they do.

He also fails to inspire any confidence in girls he courts because they sense that he will not stand up for her. Women look for guys who will look out for them. If they sense that a guy is a weakling, they have little use for him. Constant criticism erodes self-confidence.

 -American, male, 20s (Ex-Mormon discussion forum)

From my own experience, the emotionally happiest and healthiest people I know (amongst academic high achievers) all have good relationships with their parents and were never poked and prodded into high academic achievement. They were able to get far academically due to their own intellect, motivation, and determination, of course with loving encouragement (not prodding) from their parents.

Always remember the effects of selection bias. The kids graduating from these top-ranked schools and getting good jobs are a highly select sample of young people who have extraordinary intellect and motivation, and much of that comes from genetics, environment, peers, or luck, and NOT parental intervention. If you are a parent, just because you see so many kids graduating from Harvard getting $100k starting salary jobs doesn’t mean that if you drop your own kid into Harvard, he will magically come out with a $100k starting salary job. Your kid needs to have that intellect and motivation; without them, he will wallow in depression because you expect so much of him, but he simply doesn’t have the ability to deliver what you desire.

Unlike the philosophy of many Asian parents, not everything can be taught to everyone. Some kids are simply not made to go down a top-ranked academic path. They may have strong skills in other areas, such as mechanical hand skills or people skills, and are thus better-suited for different professions. There should be no shame in your child being a car mechanic, if he simply can’t do well in school, no matter how much you force him to try. If fixing cars is what he’s good at, and he aspires to open his own small car body shop (which can be a stable and profitable business in the long run), it’s useless to try to push him into becoming a brain surgeon.

-Excerpted from a 2006 article by Philip Guo, PhD (professor of Computer Science)

All parents have dreams for their children but the overbearing ones really make it obvious that their love is conditional upon the fulfillment of their expectations. Which social groups tend to have above-average concentrations of overbearing parents? In North America, that would be immigrants. People immigrate for all sorts of reasons. The biggest delusion that immigrants have is the “for a better life” myth that they chant to whoever they’re pandering to, and this is otherwise known as the “American Dream.” The people who feed their children and others this lie don’t have a concrete reason for immigrating, such as an educational or occupational opportunity (in other words, their own life fulfillment), but rather some vague dream about rainbows paved with gold. These are hurt people, disenchanted with life in their homeland, and this hurt could go back several generations. Often, they do not know the exact reasons for their distress. They could have been from a fallen family, whose wealth or status was lost by tragic means, such as those stemming from political winds of change. However, these families’ values and high standards remain intact, and as a result their offspring are doomed for generations to carry out the plan to regain what was lost. Children of overbearing parents should try to find out more about their family background, by speaking with relatives, traveling to the ancestral homeland, in order to gain insight into what social or familial forces shaped their parents’ behaviour.

-Canadian, female, 30s

South-Asian Young Writers’ Collective (SYWC): Opportunity for Desi High School Girls

South-Asian Young Writers’ Collective (SYWC) is about writing as South-Asian American girls. SYWC is an exciting summer workshop for high school girls, that will meet three times a week at Asian Arts Initiatives (AAI) in Chinatown, Philadelphia, during July and August. Participants will engage in discussions and writing exercises in class, reflect at home in a personal journal, as well as create and contribute to an online blog as a group. Each week, we will explore different themes like labels and identities, gender, food, South-Asians in the media, and applying to college.

In addition, we will have a number of field trips on Fridays and feature writers Bushra Rehman and Kishwer Vikaas, and Samip Malik from South Asian American Digital Archives, as guest speakers.

SYWC will be an opportunity for South-Asian American girls in two main ways:

1. SYWC is a forum for creative self-expression of South-Asian American identity. We approach writing not merely as a technical skill, but also a method to explore the South-Asian diaspora.

2. SYWC is also a safe space to develop a South-Asian American network by exploring our shared identities, differences and establishing personal relationships.  Funded by the Swarthmore Foundation, SYWC is the summer project of Afsana Oreen and Sabrina Singh of Swarthmore College.

Details Dates: 07/08/13 – 08/21/13

Days: Mondays and Wednesdays, with some Fridays for field trips

Time: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with an hour for lunch (provided) at noon

The priority deadline for applications is 06/21/13. We encourage all woman-identifying high school students who are interested in reading, writing, and the South Asian American identity to apply. Application and the program are both free of charge.

Email us at for an application, or to ask questions.

Please also Like on on Facebook for updates!


Sabrina Singh, ’15

Swarthmore College South-Asian Young Writers’s Collective, Co-Founder

“Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez”

Mexican-American conservative essayist Richard Rodriguez (born 1944) is equally masterful on the page and onstage.  (He’s a frequent contributor to PBS and has speaking engagements all over the Western world.)  Many feel that education is the great equalizer.  Rodriguez argues in this biography (published in 1981) that there is a price to pay for that education.  Rodriguez also believes that class, not race, is the issue that needs to be addressed in our educational system.

As a little boy in 1940s Sacramento, California, he is “Ricardo”- speaking Spanish and sheltered by the protective embrace of his immigrant parents.  He sometimes has to translate for his parents in public.  Once he enters the local Catholic school, he becomes “Richard”-a thoughtful student who finds a keen interest in mastering English and reading great works of literature.  As the nuns suggest, the family begins speaking English at home.  English is the language of the public sphere.  Though they have worked their way up to a middle-class life, Richard notices that his parents don’t speak English with confidence as they did Spanish.  The loss of Spanish is correlated with the loss of closeness with his family.

By junior high school, Richard has read hundreds of books.  He learns about work by delivering newspapers and tending the gardens of his elderly neighbors.   Serving as an altar boy, Richard learns about the rituals of life.  (The author is still sustained by his Catholic faith and regularly attends mass).  As a teen, he becomes “the scholarship boy” and gains admission to Stanford (in part due to affirmative action, a policy that he later speaks against).  A local paper does a story on his educational success; he becomes an example in his community.

One summer, Richard works in construction, just to see what manual labor is like.  He finds himself enjoying it, partly because he’s not bound to this kind of work.  Richard realizes that most of his working-class co-workers make decent livings, unlike the Mexican illegals (who are sometimes bused in for the toughest tasks).  While the other men chat and laugh, the illegals are nearly silent and solely focused on getting the job done as quickly as possible.  Of course, they are paid less than the regular construction workers, but they have no voice to protest.

In college and grad school during the ’60s, Richard continues to excel and meets many wealthy, well-connected people (some of whom become life-long friends despite political and social differences).  As he climbs the Ivy-covered, politically-charged ladder of academia, he wonders what work will fulfill him in the long run.  He also begins to publish articles.  How can he live “a life of the mind” and still remain true to himself?

Richard Rodriguez’s thought-provoking and emotionally powerful book reads like many immigrant stories.  The author grew up in a time when assilimination into mainstream American culture was the key to success.  He lost a lot of his native Spanish, then gained it back after careful study in his early adult years.  In one Thanksgiving scene, the author explains that two of his siblings have married non-Mexicans.   Though Rodriguez’s father (who toiled in physically demanding jobs for many years) never fully mastered English, he was able to work his way up to a middle-class position.  Richard’s mother (who spoke English well) always worked outside the home, and eventually earned a secure position with the city government.  All of his siblings are college-educated and work in professional fields.

This book also delves into our American educational system, which Rodriguez feels puts too much emphasis on improving college education, but not elementary and secondary education.  How can a student succeed in college when he’s poor in reading or lacks everyday math skills?  When Rodriguez goes to speak in inner-city schools, he finds a vibrancy lacking in middle-class, mainly white schools.  The teens are wearing bright colors.  They pay careful attention to their hair, clothes, and personal style.  They are confident in their physical bodies and the author wishes he had been like that as an adolescent.  However, most of these poor and working-class kids (no matter of what race), will find limited opportunities as they graduate high school.