If you take a look strictly at the North American box office since the release of Bridesmaids, it doesn’t really look like the film made much of an impact. Its stars certainly have gotten huge bumps in the meantime, but it’s not like the runaway success of a raunchy female-led comedy led to further runaway successes — at least not on the level of previous comedy blockbusters like The Hangover or American Pie. This has, alas, very little to do with the quality of Bridesmaids and its imitators and more to do with the fact that studios have almost completely moved away from comedy vehicles in the traditional sense, meaning that the wave of Bridesmaids imitators has mostly been felt on streaming services and VOD. It has also, incidentally, mostly been shit, a fact that is made obvious by the likes of Dinner With Friends, an ostensibly well-meaning comedy that flounders by being both extremely overwritten and thoroughly unfunny.
Molly (Malin Akerman) is a famous Hollywood actress who’s going through a rough patch, having just separated from her husband months after the birth of her son. Her best friend Abbey (Kat Dennings), a late-bloomer lesbian, has also been (relatively) recently separated from her ex, who appears to have moved on rapidly. Bound together in misery, Molly and Abbey plan to spend Thanksgiving together - until people start coming out of the woodwork with plans that have fallen through and surprise visits, forcing Molly and her hippy-dippy philanthropist rebound boyfriend Jeff (Jack Donnelly) to host an impromptu dinner party that also includes “perfect parents” Lauren and Dan (Aisha Tyler and Deon Cole), Molly’s horny free-spirited mother (Jane Seymour), an earth-mother type (a woefully miscast Chelsea Peretti), the over-botoxed Brianne (Christine Taylor) and her husband (Andrew Santino), Molly’s former co-star and ex-boyfriend (Ryan Hansen) and a bevy of potential mates for Abbey, who wants nothing more than to simply wallow in her own misery.
Dinner With Friends (or Friendsgiving, as it’s called in the U.S.) is the first feature by Groundlings alumnus Nicol Pacone who, by all accounts, is friends with many of the people in this cast and has inserted autobiographical bits into the character of Abbey. With that in mind, I will say this: there is a palpable attempt to make Friendsgiving take some of the less well-trod paths of this particular genre, a genre that produces some 10-to-20 movies of more or less identical repute every year. By leaning heavily on the particularities of Abbey’s sexual orientation and by attempting to pepper the supporting cast with more than just the usual array of sitcom actors portraying married couples of various levels of wealth and happiness, Pacone is at the very least trying to tell a different story. The problem is that, beyond the gender identities of the people the main character is pining for, everything here is clichéd and familiar — the exact same tune every uninspired Sundance also-ran plays in this particular situation.
Dennings spends nearly the entire first third of the movie grappling with clumsily, extremely expository dialogue that’s meant to clarify her backstory but is spilled forth with such force that it only becomes more confusing. Early exposition dumps had me believing that Abbey either had children with her ex, used to date Molly or was actually Molly’s sister in rapid succession — all of which proved (I think) to be false. It starts the whole movie off on a bad foot, and it only gets more chaotic as more and more characters are introduced. This is where casting is usually key — if your ensemble characters are well-cast enough, the actors can bring to life the relative paucity of actual personality on the page. Despite having a great cast of comic ringers (many of whom, like Tyler and Jennings, are rarely in movies to begin with), Dinner With Friends doesn’t really get much out of them, preferring to continually saddle the cast with pithy zingers and chaotic exposition.
The fact that Pacone is actually friends with some of the actors and has seemingly tailored their characters to their actual persona (making Seymour’s character Swedish, as is Akerman’s real-life mother, for example) and her own life gives Dinner With Friends a slightly more lived-in feeling than your average ensemble rom-ish com-ish, but none of this translates to laughs. In fact, the best way to describe Dinner With Friends is simply Grown Ups with somewhat more empathy and significantly less screen time devoted to Twilight cast members getting their dicks eaten by a donkey. Friendsgiving has good intentions and there’s something to the concentration of queer content in an otherwise aggressively banal, passively aspirational ensemble comedy, but it would also help if it was funny or interesting or any of those things. The micro-genre’s constraints are so plentiful that every attempt to replicate the formula walks a razor-thin line, and this accomplishes almost none of what it’s supposed to do. ■
Dinner With Friends (aka Friendsgiving) is on VOD as of Wednesday, Nov. 10. For more about the film, please visit its IMDB page. Watch the trailer below:
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