Oren Moverman’s The Dinner opens on Friday, coinciding with another major moment of consequence for the Affordable Care Act, Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation, which at the time of this writing finds itself on the chopping block once again.
The movie stars Richard Gere and Steve Coogan as brothers who meet one night in a fancy restaurant along with their wives (Rebecca Hall and Laura Linney) to eat, drink, and dredge up painful recent and past memories. Secrets are slowly revealed over the course of the meal — and the film. And though we won’t spoil any of the plot’s layers here, it’s worth noting that Moverman adapted the script from a wildly popular Dutch novel by Herman Koch, which has already been transferred to the screen twice. (In an unrelated bit of trivia, Moverman was originally writing the screenplay for the one and only Cate Blanchett to direct, and took over the reins himself when she dropped out.)
Moverman’s version of The Dinner is set in America and as a result has been engineered as a commentary on American history, culture, and politics. Late in the film (again, no spoilers within here), the characters begin to argue about Obamacare. Though Moverman is an Israeli-born writer and onetime journalist, he’s proven with five films (including the fierce, Oscar-nominated The Messenger and the heartbreaking Time Out of Mind) to be one of this country’s most trenchant chroniclers of the beaten-up and disenfranchised, whether it be returning war veterans, the homeless, or the mentally ill.
The filmmaker, 50, spoke to EW about his decision to include such an explicit mention of the contentious health care debate:
“My writing process started with thinking a lot about adapting something set in another country to America. What would make sense? So for example, in the Dutch version, the Richard Gere character is also a politician running for higher office, but you don’t really get a sense of the politics behind the person. There is no presence of the political world in the night of the dinner.
I felt like for us, making a movie here in America, that needed to change. I’ve been to a few restaurants in my life when a political walked in with someone and sat down and had a meal and looked totally normal, as in apolitical. But somebody running for election, as Richard’s character is doing, I couldn’t just let him be on his own. The politics couldn’t be a casual, background thing. I still needed the real political world, which is his love, to keep interfering with everything that’s going on. And to keep defining him.
And the beauty of Richard’s character is that people have talked about him as being the most honest and humanist of all the characters. And he’s the politician! To which I reply, ‘Yeah, what do you know?’
So I wanted there to be a bill that he was working on that night that kept everything in motion around him and kept that world alive for him. But I thought, ‘What would be his cause?’ And since his brother is someone who, was we find out fairly early on, has mental health issue, and it’s pretty clear that the family’s struggle with mental health goes across generations, I thought it would be interesting to bring up Obamacare.
I consulted people in Washington D.C. and I was asking them, basically, ‘What bill needs to pass that no one is talking enough about?’ And that when we started talking about the mental health care element of the Affordable Care Act. Everybody’s talking about health care as a right, but there still seems to be a stigma on this aspect of it. The people I was talking to spoke a lot about mental health initiatives and destigmatizing mental health issues. I thought, ‘What a wonderful opportunity to bring the real world into the conversation, regardless of what happens to Obamacare.’
And the beauty of this movie — and this is from the book, so I’m not taking credit for it — is that it proposes something which is uncomfortable for a lot of people. Which is bringing real, actual issues to the table and talking about them. And getting people react to the reality of how things are in a family and in people’s mental health and in the country. As opposed to having a fine dinner at some ridiculous, over-the-top restaurant and pretending that everything is OK.”