As cinema emerges from its slumber, many directors and producers face the temptation to ‘capitalise on COVID’ and plague audiences with lockdown-based stories. For director Adam Rehmeier, the opposite is true, with his latest project featuring a tale of connection and crowded concerts…all without a mask in sight.
When asked to summarise his new feature, Rehmeier simply replied “Punk rock, love story”. A fair summary of Dinner in America, the coming-of-age dark comedy, written, directed and edited by Rehmeier. Taking advantage of the cinephile crave for a fresh on-screen focus, Rehmeier emphasised his intent in an even more straightforward style, “I want escapism”. And, with Dinner in America, escapism is certain. In a film which opens the entrance to an exciting other world of punk-driven energies and misfit love stories.
Produced by Ben Stiller, the film centres on the unlikely romance of two central leads. Simon (Kyle Gallner) a roguish punk rocker on the run. A character whose backstory was initially planned to be a little darker, “the initial project which was called ‘Fix’ with the Simon character, it was a punk rocker kid that was selling his body to pay for his record.” Alongside Simon, his dubious darling Patty (Emily Skeggs) is an awkward loner, obsessed with his agro rock band. As with Simon, her early character ideas were slightly further down the rocky road, “she was a lot darker…it was too competitive with the Simon character. So, one had to be less so. I decided that I wanted her to be more of the growth character.”
Many have made comparisons between Dinner in America and Michael Lehmann’s Heathers (1989). Although unintentional, it’s a comparison that Rehmeier is proud of, “It’s a film I saw when I was a teenager, I love that movie.” In different ways, the offbeat humour shares the same awkward stare as Napoleon Dynamite (2004). Although not a conscious influencer on the film, Rehmeier welcomed comparisons, “Napoleon Dynamite I can definitely see. I think there’s an innocence to that film. I think it’s a really great movie.”
Recently released to UK audiences, Dinner in America is a film that revels in its punky grit just as much as its soft-hearted love story. Rehmeier crafted a soundtrack designed to embody such a spirit, “In fact, the band that we used to record with, Disco Assault, they’re brand of Punk Rock is more Reagan era Punk Rock. And, that’s what I respond to.” Prior to filming, Rehmeier worked with various bands and his central leads, collectively creating the music that would catapult the films energy into overdrive. “Emily and I went into the studio and recorded ‘Watermelon’. So, we had an emotional reference point for the movie…it’s a powerful point of the movie.”
Without speaking, Rehmeier’s musical interest was evident when he joined our Zoom call, sat at his desk with a guitar. Unfortunately, this led to boring conversations about guitars – which somehow drifted into both of us fanboying over 70s horror. Equally unprofessional conversations which ate into our interview time and gave me a lot less quotes about punk love, and a whole lot more about rocky horror.
In keeping with his musical and cultural interests, Rehmeier didn’t mince his words when it came to his views on the last 12 months of chaos across the globe. Or better put, “It’s been diaper shit”. Rehmeier was emphatic about his enthusiasm for interaction and connection, “I’m more of an intuitive empath, I’m feeling stuff constantly as I’m moving. I’m feeling people’s emotions and stuff. This has been such a downer year. You’re feeling everybody’s weight and heaviness – it’s exhausting.”
Although based in Michigan, Rehmeier’s lockdown frustrations will resonate with many students at York and across the UK, “with a mask where I’m not able to see everybody’s reactions its very dull and cloudy.” Mask or not, it’s likely to be cloudy in York – but, there is a definite message from midwestern directors to university students. We’re all tired of this shit.
He further added his frustration at new films capitalising on COVID. Recently, filmmakers have found an opportunity to inject a quick cash grab jab through lockdown-based releases. The likes of the poorly received Locked Down (2021) gained a particularly negative reception. Rehmeier voiced his frustration, “I don’t want to watch movies where masks are part of it…When I’m thinking of a film, I think of it as a separate reality.”
Escapism is something Dinner in America possesses in abundance, capturing a quirky alter-reality of intense relationships and caricature midwestern families. Putting the dinner in America, the film is packed full of mundane family meals and frozen food, “the dysfunctionality of the dinner scenes. Like, as an attempt from years prior to be the thing that the family all comes together for. And, that’s the one time. It’s playing with a traditional 50s stereotype”.
In an aggressive stance against the mundanity and plasticity of American midwestern eating habits, his film set out to ignite the teen spirit smells of angsty energy. Featuring crowded gigs and mask free extras – Dinner in America provides a whole new world, “a dirty garage, with auto cars and all these kids swarming around…it was important for me to get that right.”
In a year of lockdowns and probably one too many family dinners, Rehmeier emphasised his excitement to return to normality. And, Dinner in America is the perfect glimpse into the future. With coming-of-age themes, and a central love story wrapped in an edgy punk-driven aesthetic – it’s clear that the story deviates from the COVID world as far as it can. The only thing infectious about Dinner in America is its energy – a mask free zone of angsty rebellion, punk gigs and American dinners. Now that sounds like a better reality.