Regrettably, I haven’t seen 1981’s My Dinner with André. I believe there’s an unwritten law that states that this is a cinematic crime being in the film critic position that I’m in.
This also meant that I wasn’t in tune with the work of the classic’s star and co-writer André Gregory. Gregory is his own renaissance man having taken on duties as a theatre director, an artist, and an actor. You may have caught a more mainstream André Gregory in 1993’s Demolition Man, where he squared off with a hammy Wesley Snipes. Cindy Kleine’s doc makes great use of one of his more campier Demolition Man scenes, as well as a funny behind-the-scenes story told by Gregory himself.
I was quite smitten with Kleine’s passion project André Gregory: Before and After Dinner. If there’s one more movie that’s been released this year that’s been made with true love besides Before Midnight, it’s this heartfelt film.
Kleine, who is also André’s wife, documents the artist’s life through interviews and personal one-on-one’s with Gregory. The documentarian has also gotten honest sit downs from friends, family, and cast members André once directed.
In no way does Before and After Dinner feel biased or bogus. Kleine doesn’t have to cook up anything to make her husband look like a good man because his kind actions and his humble personality are always front and centre.
The benefit of having Gregory’s wife interview him is that there isn’t any falseness to any of his explanations. André opens himself up like a book in the first place, but if Kleine triggers a memory or an inkling, Gregory doesn’t feel the need to hold back anything. A tearing scene featuring André showing how upset he is upon hearing of his Father’s possible past assisting one of history’s nefarious leaders is the proof in the pudding.
Kleine, of course, respects her subject and never overexposes any spontaneous emotions. She recognizes the little things that quietly express her focused husband. When observing scenes in a play he’s directing, the camera takes note of André’s excited mannerisms and the orchestration he’s silently carrying out with his fingers.
The doc also does a splendid job at portraying Gregory’s friendship with long-time collaborator Wallace Shawn. We’ve all seen Shawn lend his amiable likeliness to live action and animated roles. However, not only does Before and After Dinner show just how important an aged friendship is and how Gregory’s creativity is inspired when he’s corresponding with Shawn, but Kleine’s doc shows Shawn’s acting range in an advanced light that many of us haven’t seen before.
The documentary has infectious affection. It often fills us up with that feeling of hearing someone laugh only to be triggered by the happiness ourselves. André Gregory: Before and After Dinner is a bit rough around the edges on a technical level as it uses lower end graphics and shooting techniques, but this doc is chock full of warmth and is waiting for audiences to embrace it.