Movie Review: White Punks in…love? “Dinner in America”

Jonathan Rhys-Myers at his most evil, Dennis Hopper fully amped-up and Robert Carlyle in all his “Trainspotting” rage — that’s Kyle Gallner in “Dinner in America.”

Gallner and Emily Skeggs made the oddest and most adorable couple, a warm and fuzzy Sid & Nancy, in this rude and raw dog punks-in-love romance.

The title comes from a song by this underground punk band — PSYOPS — that both members of our mismatched couple dig — her as a fangirl, him as their raging, ski-masked and mysterious lead singer.

Writer-director Adam Carter Rehmeir’s film is a movie in three dysfunctional family-dinner acts. It takes a while to get going, but Gallner sets the tone from the start.

Kicked out of a drug study at a college lab, Simon is pissed, and invited to dinner by a sexually available fellow test subject. Before his hostess, the girl’s trashy mom (Lea Thompson, a hoot), can make a pass at him, before he half-trashes their house and sets fire to their shrubbery (he’s a “pyro”), Simon has to drop a few unfiltered remarks on one and all as he’s enjoying a turkey dinner parked in front of a TV tuned to football. He has to challenge the jock-obsessed patriarch (Nick Chinlund).

“What’s your name again?” “Bill.” “Do you hate me, Bill?”

Simon’s a rebel without a cause or a place to crash. His pyromania has the cops looking for somebody just like him — they only have a sketch on the “Wanted” posters. And his band is selling out, going “eyeliner punk” in search of their big break at a prestigious local dive. Only he can keep them together.

Patty (Skeggs) is the dullish pet store custodian whose high school graduation didn’t stop the relentless bullying by girls, jocks, anybody who takes a dislike to her dull, lumpy looks and minimum wage job attire.

Events throw Simon into the path of Patty, leading to a second awkward dinner (Mary Lynn Rajskub and Pat Healy play her “take it down a notch” parents) and Simon’s demonstration of his ability to lie on the fly.

His parents are missionaries in Tanzania, he says. He was there with them, building churches, for years. He’s looking for a place stay. And yes, he’ll say the dinner blessing. That’s the best place to burn Patty’s confrontational and bratty adopted brother (Griffin Gluck) a new one. Because the jerk teen doesn’t know he’s adopted.

Rehmeier’s film really finds its footing as the teasing, taunting and rude rude rude Simon is shocked that this wallflower in oversized glasses is into his band. Not that he tells her who he is. Not that he lets her know that her Polaroid sex-shot fan letters have been landing in his backpack.

Gallner (“Scream,” “The Finest Hours”) is hilariously obnoxious, dropping slurs and F-bombs like he’s afraid they’ll fall out of punk fashion, a blast of fury, spit and tough talk that he may or may not be able to back up. Pairing him with bullying misogynists or “Bill,” the racist host of that first dinner, is the only way to make the homophobic Simon halfway palatable.

Skeggs, of “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” dresses down and acts “slow” to make Patty a young woman everybody underestimates. The story’s upbeat arc has Simon soften into her champion and Patty come out of her shell as she sticks up for her almost indefensible punk beau, and sings her disaffected and hip poetry in front of his music.

Rehmeier gives this conventionally unconventional romance some surprises and twists, upending expectations early on and never letting “Dinner in America” settle into “predictable.”

And his stars throw themselves into this as if there are “And the Oscar goes to” stakes involved, which there most certainly are not.

Seriously, what could be more punk rock than that?

Cast: Kyle Gallner, Emily Skeggs, Griffin Gluck, Pat Healy, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Lea Thompson

Credits: Scripted and directed by Adam Carter Rehmeier. A Best & Final release.

Running time: 1:46

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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