Some of the best conversations occur during a meal. Sitting at a table and breaking bread together is almost mystical in its power to produce vibrant and enjoyable discussion. It’s no different in the world of entertainment. Movies are full of examples of great scenes set around a meal or a table. Some are funny, some are sad. Some are tense while others are full of joy. Some are heartwarming yet others can be heartbreaking. We have chosen to spotlight five scenes that capture so much about what makes a great dinner scene work.
Back To The Future 2
The scene where Jennifer gets taken to her future 2015 home and the McFly family sits down over pizza is not as elaborate or as funny as other dinner scenes but it has stood out in my family since this movie was released in 1989.
And in a trilogy rife with mind-bending time travel, exhilarating plots, and inimitable character performances, it boggles my mind why this short scene is so entertaining.
Is it because Michael J. Fox plays all of the McFlies? That does make me smile so surely that’s part of it. Is it how fun it is to see the domestic aspects of an imaginative futuristic world with double ties and pizza hydrators? Without a doubt. Is it because it’s so utterly quotable? Seeing as how often my brother Jeremy says, “Fruit! Fruit please!” and I can’t help but reply with “Why don’t I just shove it all in my mouth ?!? HA HA!” when I have food in my hand the size of that tiny, yet-to-be hydrated pizza, I’d say definitely.
BttF sets the standard for fun, summer action-adventure, summer popcorn cinema and in the midst of all the movie’s twists and turns this simple meal that lasts 90 seconds and barely impacts the plot stands out. I love it. (Gowdy Cannon)
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer
I have always loved a good “dinner” scene almost entirely because they are so conducive to great dialogue. The nightclub scene in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is a prime example of that. Maybe one of the best. I have watched BatBS every few months for the past few years and appreciate it more every time. It is an easy to underrate lighthearted comedy that is chock full of great writing, wonderful scenes, and extremely witty quotes. At the center of it all is Richard Nugent (Cary Grant), and the sisters judge Margaret (Myrna Loy) and Susan (a teenage Shirley Temple) Turner. Susan has developed a huge crush on Nugent. In exchange for the dismissal of a wrongdoing, judge Margaret orders Nugent to “date” her younger sister until her crush wears off. During the course of this “courting,” Nugent and Margaret fall in love. On the flimsy pretext of wanting to discuss their legal arrangement, Nugent and Margaret attend a nightclub for dinner, drinks, and dancing. And then everything comes crashing down as most of the personal dynamics encountered throughout the film converge in this single scene and collide in a beautiful explosion of dialogue. (Ben Plunkett)
Two of the most famous, decorated, and iconic actors of all time, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, had never been in a scene together on film. They had been in the same film, The Godfather Part 2, but they played characters during different time periods. These two actors had spent decades wowing audiences with their craft, but had yet to speak to each other on camera. That all ended with Michael Mann’s tour de force crime drama, Heat.
Pacino plays a detective. De Niro plays a master thief. After a lot of cat and mouse moves, the film finally places them together in a diner somewhere in Los Angeles. They are two masters of their craft, both in the film and in real life. They feel each other out. They give information and they hold some things back. When Pacino leans in to deliver a line, De Niro counters it with a slight shift here or a slight move there. They present their philosophies of life with dialogue that is crisp, tense, playful, and precise. They end their conversation with very specific promises that they are willing to kill the other if it comes down to that. Now that they have met, they won’t want to do that, but they will, because that’s the job. That’s the way it is.
In a movie filled with memorable performances, genius set pieces, and impressive directing, this scene stands above them all. And to make matters even more astounding, the final scene in the film is almost entirely one take filmed with two cameras over their shoulders. They barely rehearsed because they wanted to preserve the spontaneity and energy of the scene. The diner scene in Heat is a masterpiece. (Phill Lytle)
Meet the Parents
Ben Stiller honestly has had more misses than hits in his career to me. And Robert De Niro, he of a legendary filmography with too many hits to try to list, had never had a role that I’d seen that was fall on the floor funny. And even though the two sequels were forgettable, everything came together perfectly for an excellent 95 minutes of comedy in Meet the Parents.
And for all the scenes that make this move totally rewatchable–Greg losing it on the airplane, the volleyball game in the pool (“It was a big shot!”)–the first time Greg has dinner with Pam’s parents is one that causes tears of laughter every time.
Jack’s poem about his mother is simultaneously disturbing and hilarious. Jack’s continued subtle and psychological intimidation of the nervous and awkward Greg causes Greg to pop a cork in an urn of Jack’s mother’s ashes. Then Greg tries to work his way around a lie about growing up on a farm by talking about milking a cat, which prompts one of the greatest follow up questions of all time by Jack. And to round it off, Jewish Greg tries to impress Jack by saying grace at the meal and recites “Day by Day” from Godspell.
And it all works. I have fallen on the floor laughing during this scene more than once. It is truly one of the funniest dinner scenes in movie lore. (Gowdy Cannon)
As mentioned, I love “dinner” scenes in movies because they are so conducive to great dialogue. The long dinner scene in Babette’s Feast is certainly no different. However, there is a lot more than just the dialogue going for it. A whole lot more. In short, two sisters are leading an extremely humble life leading a small, elderly flock of pious Lutherans in a tiny Danish village. Yes, they are very pious, very devoted to their faith, but they know nothing of grace or joy. Into this scene steps Babette, a world-class French chef fleeing much hardship amid the French Revolution. She enters the employ of the two sisters. After several years she wins a lottery of 10,000 francs from her homeland. Instead of spending it on herself, she opts to spend the entire thing to make a top French gourmet meal for the sisters and their congregation. In the end Babette’s presents the true face of grace and joy to the graceless, joyless villagers. But the scene is a masterpiece for more than one reason. In my opinion, it is the king of this specific genre. And the dinner scene is only the centerpiece of a masterfully adorned cinematic table. The whole movie is dense with layers of theological and philosophical meaning. It is perfect and an absolute joy to watch every single time. (Ben Plunkett)