When I asked writer-director Adam Carter Rehmeier to describe his new Sundance movie Dinner in America, he deferred to his leading lady Emily Skeggs, who returns to the festival two years after starring in the Grand Jury Prize winner The Miseducation of Cameron Post.
Skeggs described the film as a renegade love story about two misfits who find each other, and themselves, through music. Kyle Gallner stars as a singer on the run from the cops who hides out with one of his biggest fans (Skeggs), and the two actors sing original songs that were written for the film ahead of production. Skeggs even co-wrote one of the tracks with Rehmeier.
Dinner in America grew out of two separate sketches that weren’t going anywhere for Rehmeier, until he merged them together. That’s when the project started to gain traction. The script caught the eye of Danny Leiner, the late director of Dude, Where’s My Car? and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, to whom the film is dedicated. According to Rehmeier, Leiner was very interested in directing Dinner himself, but when he met with the writer, it was clear that Rehmeier had a vision for the film, and Leiner agree to shepherd the project as a producer. “He remained instrumental in the first year or so, and then he got sick, and by the end of production we’d lost him,” said Rehmeier, who was grateful for Leiner’s notes, which only sharpened his vision.
The filmmaker also gave credit to producers Ben Stiller and Nicky Weinstock, who boarded the project a bit later. “They were so helpful in opening a lot of doors for us. They guided us like spirit animals. Nicky was on set for the entire film, so just having him there with his experience was awesome. I can’t thank them enough for making this happen.”
Skeggs wasn’t the only performer returning to Park City, as Pat Healy said he’s been coming to Sundance for 21 years, and is actually an alumnus of the festival, which screened his 2001 short film Mullet. Dinner in America premiered in Salt Lake City this year, and Healy said the energy reminded him of “a rock concert.” It was completely different than the premiere for his 2012 thriller Compliance. “That was a whole other thing, because we thought we were going to get killed or hurt by somebody. We were ushered into an elevator by security after, and people were yelling at us, calling us ‘rapists.’ That was really unexpected. This was unexpected in a different way. It’s obviously very cathartic for people in a way that movie wasn’t.”
Meanwhile, Lea Thompson said she’s been to Sundance a few times with movies, and a few times as a tourist. “I just love the whole independent scene, and what’s so wonderful about a small movie like this is it’s Adam’s vision. I did a lot of really big movies that were a lot of people’s visions, and you can see how the scripts get watered down and you have no idea what the original intention was. I directed The Year of Spectacular Men, and it was my vision, I got to do it all, and I like being part of that, so I just wanted to be a part of this,” said Thompson, who wasted no time signing onto the project when she learned it required her to fly to Detroit and make out with Gallner.
Rehmeier said the ideas for Dinner in America have been germinating in his brain since as far back as 2006, and he was inspired by movie outcasts such as Dawn Wiener in Welcome to the Dollhouse and the title character in Napoleon Dynamite. He also said that if his favorite lead singer ever needed his help, he’s step up in a big way. “If Joey Ramone was alive, I’d take a bullet for him, 100 percent.”
“This movie is incredibly special to me because of the relationships we built together. We poured a lot of ourselves into the characters, and were very vulnerable to go to those places. I’m very protective of them, and excited to see people are responding positively, and seeing themselves in the characters. It’s heartening and it’s why I do this
Before they left, I asked Thompson about her upcoming DC series Stargirl, and her take on Greta Gerwig‘s Little Women, having played Marmee in an earlier adaptation that also played with time. You’ll have to watch the full interview above for her answers, as well as Healy’s own tribute to Leiner. And keep an eye out for our Sundance supercuts, in which dozens of artists offer their theories on the death of Cliff Booth’s wife in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and which categories they’d like to see added to the Oscars, as well as the TV shows they most recently binged, and the ones they’d love to guest star on. To watch the stars of Sundance weigh in with their Super Bowl predictions, click here.
Finally, we have to thank our presenting partner, the Kia Telluride SUV, which was recently named the 2020 North American Utility Vehicle of the Year. Additional thanks to support sponsors Glenfiddich Scotch, Peroni Beer, Marbl Toronto, mou footwear, ic! Berlin sunglasses and clothing lines, Laundry by Sheli Segal and Orginal Penguin.