The Dinner Game


In the Annals of Idiocy—
there with Dan Quayle,
Charles Bovary, and Debbie Matenopoulos—surely a
place is reserved for Pignon (Jacques Villeret), a portly, hapless French civil servant who spends his spare time
constructing matchstick
models of famous buildings. Just moments after meeting him, Brochant (Thierry
Lhermitte), a smugly well-to-
do publisher, knows he’s found a diamond in the rough—he and his pals like to hold “idiot dinners,” where they compete to bring the stupidest guest. When the unwitting Pignon
arrives at Brochant’s fab pad, however, the contender is down for the count: Brochant can’t make it to the party, as he’s thrown out his back and his wife, Christine, has just left
him. Pignon resolves to stay and help his new “friend,” in
the process botching attempts to find Christine, inviting a
tax collector into Brochant’s apartment, and even preventing Christine’s return to her home.

The script for The Dinner Game—courtesy of director Francis Veber, a Frenchman whose films have provided the springboard for dozens of lousy Hollywood remakes (most recently Father’s Day)—is at once blithe and meticulous about the tidy comeuppance
it arranges for Brochant’s everyday cruelty, a tone that matches the jovial yet concentrated approach to humilation that he and his friends pursue. But the movie, thankfully, is not so conceited as that smarmy bunch. Clever, snappy, and
inconsequential, it’s essentially a two-character sketch, and one that never strains for a laugh (Lhermitte’s subtle air
of bemused fatalism toward the end of the film is funny in itself). True to its simple premise,
The Dinner Game aspires to
be not more nor less than an airy confection, as lightweight and briefly diverting as one of Pignon’s matchstick towers.