On a recent episode of Community, the film-obsessed character known as Abed (Daniel Pudi) is having a birthday party through for him. His friend, Jeff (Joel McHale) is aiming for a Pulp Fiction-themed surprise party, but first must meet with Abed at a restaurant, at Abed’s request. The two meet, with Jeff immediately aware of Abed’s different appearance and behavior – he has exchanged his typical college clothes with a sweater and dress-pants ensemble. The confidence that Abed exhibits in ordering from the menu is in stark change to his normal order of fast-food. Even his facial tics are dramatically different (if you pay attention to that sort of thing). Finally, Abed goes on a tangent, telling a story about a traumatic experience that has made him this way. The camera is initially at a distance, but by the time his monologue ends, you’re brought to a close-up. The scene is one of the finest moments in Community’s two seasons, and a fine example of Daniel Pudi’s acting ability.
Upon the realization that the episode was parodying Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre, I knew I had to place it at the top of my queue.
Louis Malle’s film initially begins outside the confines of its restaurant setting. Wally (Wallace Shawn) narrates his life – he goes through his daily routine as he ponders where his life forked wrong, money, and his girlfriend. They’re all very matter-of-fact thoughts that give you a sense of what kind of person Wally is, therein preparing you to know at least one person at the dinner table once the time comes.
Wally meets with Andre (Andre Gregory) with a sense of reluctance. He hasn’t seen Andre in a while, and the idea of being one-on-one with him doesn’t sit right with Wally, particularly because he has heard some odd rumors circulating about Andre’s personal life. But as the two sit down, you gather that any reluctance on Wally’s part is melted away. The conversation is a bit one-sided – Andre’s life is worldlier than Wally’s, and therein he shares stories that see him traveling with a theatrical group and being buried alive. So Wally, like the audience, is the everyman. And like the audience, Wally listens, though interjects from time to time with his thoughts. But as the conversation wears on, you see Wally begin to defend his stance on life and the routine. These moments when Wally takes the reins of the conversation are enhanced by screenplay’s (written by Gregory and Shawn) decision to start the film outside the confines of the restaurant.
The more I reflect on My Dinner with Andre, the more I grow to appreciate it. The subtle touches to the filmmaking are exquisite – you gather that Malle planed out every shot to maximize the importance of words while containing the action within a booth. And the conversation! It flows perfectly. When Wally and Andre meet, their conversation begins awkwardly, but as the two hours pass by, you feel an organic growth between the two. It’s something that I’ve been missing dearly in film lately, with My Dinner with Andre capturing a yearning for connection so astutely. By the film’s end, you sense a greater force pulling you in – a desire to connect.