The Dinner Game
The French comic writer-director Francis Veber, best known here for co-writing "La Cage au Folles," has turned his play "The Dinner Game" into a charming little film.
The premise is that a group of wealthy, overaged Parisian yuppies, bored with their businesses and their golf games, have formed a weekly dinner club, to which each member must bring a 'con,' or fool, in order to provide unwitting entertainment to the group. This week, member Pierre Brochant, a successful publisher (Thierry Lhermitte), has the perfect fool handed to him by a friend. He is Francis Pignon (Jacques Villeret, who won the French CÚsar as best actor of 1998 for his performance), a clerk at the Internal Revenue department, who is consumed by his hobby of making replicas of world landmarks out of matchsticks. The Eiffel Tower and the Golden Gate bridge are examples of his work, and he knows exactly how many matchsticks it took to build each one.
The problem for Brochant is that he's just thrown his back out, and instead of bringing Pignon to the party he must act the briefly gracious host to Pignon before sending him home. But as one-set farces will have it, the two men are led step by step down the slippery slope to disaster. Before the evening is over, Brochant's wife will have left him, Pignon will have saved the day twice and then thrown it away again, once by mistaking Brochant's wife for his mistress and once by bringing a tax inspector in who knows the phone number of a love nest where the wife may be.
The film, and I assume the play as well, is a classic by-the-numbers comedy, and it plays out perfectly (at 80 minutes it's not a moment too short). Villeret is the perfect Laurel to Lhermitte's Hardy (though their physiques are reversed), and Veber has enough playwriting tricks up his sleeve to keep us intrigued and even delighted from beginning to end. Naturally, before the evening is over we'll all realize that it's Pignon who's truly the better person, for his mistakes come from his decent impulses, while Brochant's come from meanness. But the film is not mean. It's perfectly done; these days it's always a pleasure to see comedy written, directed, and acted superbly, and this one is top drawer.