I’ve been writing about Kyle Gallner for more than a decade, ever since I saw him as one of the three teens who run afoul of Brian Cox in Lucky McKee‘s 2008 thriller Red. He burst onto the Hollywood scene around the same time we started losing Johnny Depp to corporate tentpoles like Pirates of the Caribbean, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Alice in Wonderland. I mention Depp because Gallner has always reminded me of him — and not just because they both starred in A Nightmare on Elm Street. There’s a bit of a bad boy edge to Gallner that I’ve always liked, but there’s also a sensitivity beneath it. There’s a reason he played the teen who actually shows remorse for his actions in Red. There’s a sadness to his eyes, and yet, he exhibits a somewhat mischievous spirit onscreen.
Which may be why Gallner is perfect as the protagonist in Adam Carter Rehmeier‘s nihilistic yet cautiously optimistic comedy Dinner in America. He plays Simon, who we first meet as a human guinea pig, enduring some horrific drug trial for a few measly bucks in between visits to a local blood bank, where he literally bleeds for his art. See, Simon moonlights as John Q. Public, the masked singer of buzzy Michigan punk band Psyops, and he happens to be fond of arson.
When a suburban blaze lands him in hot water with the cops, he befriends a shy young woman named Patty (Emily Skeggs), who offers him cover among her family of normos. Like Simon, Patty is a bit of an outcast. People, including her own family, either criticize her looks, or think she’s a little slow. And while Patty may very well be somewhere on the spectrum, she makes fast friends with Simon. It doesn’t hurt that she’s a huge punk fan whose favorite band happens to be Psyops — though she has no idea that Simon is John Q., whom she’s been sending tawdry photos to in the mail.
Eventually, Patty brings out the sweetness in Simon, while he gives her the confidence to embrace her inner songstress, which culminates in a moving musical sequence in Simon’s childhood bedroom — a place he’s not even allowed anymore. A liar and a thief, Simon isn’t welcome in his own home, and his surprise return sets the stage for one of the most uncomfortable family meals I’ve seen since Hereditary.
And that’s really where Dinner in America takes its title from, as Simon eats with his family, Patty’s family, and a family early in the film with Beth (Hannah Marks), a friend he meets in the drug trial. There’s something sacred about dinnertime in America, and it’s something of a joy to watch Rehmeier explore the different customs, conversations and family dynamics. Simon is something of a liberating force, as he makes out with Beth’s mom (Lea Thompson), gets Patty’s parents (Pat Healy and Mary Lynn Rajskub) stoned, and tells her brother (Griffin Gluck) he’s adopted.
Patty and Simon make an unlikely pair, but as the saying goes, sometimes, opposites attract, and these two are perfect for each other despite very different energies. Gallner does a great job presenting a hard outer shell that softens when Simon hears a good song, and Skeggs matches him every step of the way, delivering big time when it counts most. They have this oddly endearing chemistry together, and Rehmeier’s charming script allows them to indulge their inner weirdos.
I had a great time with Dinner in America, which may prove to be something of a cult hit under the care of the right distributor. There’s a real sweetness to the film, a smile behind its sneer, so if you’re looking for a romantic comedy about a couple of misfits, one set to a punk-powered soundtrack, you’ll eat this Dinner up. It’s a movie that would make the Johnny Depp from Cry-Baby proud.