My Dinner with Andre

Probably the best talking-heads movie around. Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory play themselves, catching up with each other over dinner at an elegant New York restaurant. Everything that’s said — Gregory does almost all the talking — is derived from conversations the two men of the theater had when Shawn, the younger playwright, asked Gregory to explain why he left the theater and what he’d been up to since. Then Shawn molded the material into a script, and the way he and Gregory play it, it’s as if they’re just talking and we’re eavesdropping. A riveting storyteller, Gregory speaks of his bizarre experiences in Tibet and elsewhere; he’s convinced that life has become routinized and that we all need to escape and go mad to flush the deadening ordinariness out of our systems. The relentlessly down-to-earth Shawn counters with a much-quoted monologue about being happy just to wake up and find his cup of cold coffee without any dead cockroaches in it. Like some of our best late-night chats with good friends, the dialogue seems to encompass everything while resolving nothing. Shawn may have structured the script to put us on his side (Gregory’s mystical rant makes him restless), but he gives the best lines to Gregory. Director Louis Malle serves the material beautifully and unobtrusively, and collaborated again with the duo over a decade later with Vanya on 42nd Street.

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