Gravitas Ventures An Exquisite Meal starves an audience ravenous for more

FTC Statement: Reviewers are frequently provided by the publisher/production company with a copy of the material being reviewed.The opinions published are solely those of the respective reviewers and may not reflect the opinions of or its management.

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. (This is a legal requirement, as apparently some sites advertise for Amazon for free. Yes, that's sarcasm.)

In the days since motion pictures were first developed, it’s been proven time and again there are certainly as many types of films as there are people; there are the flashy Michael Bay-produced bombastic blockbusters that draw your attention with a full-scale assault of computerized special-effects, outrageous frat-boy comedies, tear-jerking romances and introverted, brooding art-house films. There are the anti-authoritarian shock-horror rebels spitting in the face of polite society, muscular superhero action flicks that offer an overabundance of adolescent wish fulfillment fantasies, prescient, meditative science fiction that shows us where we’re heading and question if it’s a good place to ultimately be. Then there are the movies that, just as with people, could best be labeled eccentrics, whose very unconventionality and outright resistance to categorization place them in a proud, defiant league all their own.

It’s in that latter group of misfit silver screen kids that Oblay Dart/Unfurnished Film/Gravitas Ventures’ latest feature, An Exquisite Meal, belongs. At little more than an hour, its darkly humorous heart presents a paradox by its very presence: Is it a comedy? A horror film? A reflective examination about the foibles of everyday post-modern 21st century society? All three? Or none of the above?

In an upper-class suburban neighborhood, well-to-do yuppie Dave (Mike Jimerson), whose vaingloriously high-end tastes in food, art and wine verges on obsession, and his jittery writer wife Irene (Amrita Dhalilwal), throw an evening soirée for their mutual friends: limp-wristed milquetoast Mark (Ross Magyar), who’s agreed to his own spouse Beth’s (Victoria Nugent) idea to conceive a child through invitro fertilization so as not to burden their future unborn with the ‘rape-connotation’ intercourse suggests; perky yoga-in-a-war-zone practitioner Annie (Emily Marso); and humdrum blue-collar electrician Paul (Mark Pracht), who despite his working-class position displays more cultured knowledge than his supercilious host. After enduring awkward, pre-dinner small talk about podcasts and Hemingway, the night’s pseudo-intellectual babble becomes increasingly absurdist, propelled forward with a variety of quick-cut visual techniques, the random appearance of dashing party-crashing French (or is he?) stranger Edward (Bassam Abdelfatlah), and the revelation that an increasingly unhinged Dave has both a loaded pistol in his kitchen drawer and a propensity for murder to pair with his conceited pretensions.

There’s a rampant existentialist creed on exhibit in An Exquisite Meal. Writer/director Robert Bruce Carter splits the movie into five(ish) acts, and its disparate cast of seemingly casual guests mimics the works of that literary movement in many subtle and several cleverly overt ways (Edward, for example, claims to be a professor of French philosophy). As in Sartre’s famous play No Exit, the characters here impatiently await their eventual, unknown fate, initially wallowing in the vapid and the mundane but revealing their true inner natures the longer they’re confined with one another. Meta ruminations about the news and film industries (why does everyone gleefully persecute the live-action Transformers movies anyway?) abound, and the tension, when it breaks, does so in unsurprisingly sexual and violent ways. Yet beyond the exploration of staunchly erudite theories and bleak, uncomfortable satire, there’s little on display to justify its own celluloid existence. The loose script introduces characters with no forewarning or explanation, and the film’s slight running time doesn’t generate enough friction to yield a satisfying climax; there’s a great amount of build-up with miniscule payoff, and the frustration as the credits roll is laden with regret at a missed opportunity. The filmmakers may have set out with the intention of painting a lifelike museum-quality masterpiece, but instead bestow upon viewers the cinematic equivalent of a doodle drawn on the back of a Bordeaux-stained napkin.

Ripe with bright dialogue, wonderfully understated performances and a jaunty score, there’s sadly not enough leg room for true in-depth individual analysis or narrative development, and in the end An Exquisite Meal starves an audience ravenous for more meat on its celluloid bones, and it’s for that reason that I give it an anorexic 2 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale. Add half an hour and try again, guys.

2.0 / 5.0