An Interview with Dinner In America director Adam Carter Rehmeier and executive producer Sean O’Grady

Adam Carter Rehmeier, director of the new film Dinner In America—which plays at Direct From Sundance on February 27 at the Michigan Theater—grew up in the Midwest, so when it came time to shoot the film, the suburbs surrounding Detroit felt right. “There’s a lot of stuff here that made a lot of sense,” Rehmeier says. “I think the palette here is really great, this sort of faded broken middle class vibe.”

In the film, punk rocker on the run Simon (played by Kyle Gallner of the new CBS All Access show Interrogation, who you may recognize from the television series Veronica Mars and Smallville) meets shy, sheltered Patty (Tony Award-nominee Emily Skeggs) and the two cut a swathe of foul-mouthed destruction from Hamtramck to Orchard Lake.

Rehmeier, who had been working on two separate ideas that weren’t working until he merged them together into a single script, teamed up with executive producer Sean O’Grady (known for films including the indie hit In A World…(2013) and Big Sur, which played at the Cinetopia Film Festival in 2013), who was looking to produce a film in Michigan.

When casting Dinner In America, Rehmeier was drawn to Gallner for the role of Simon from his Facebook profile picture. “Kyle was one of my original five,” he says, “and I just saw Simon in [his profile picture], saw the look in his eyes. I place a lot of value in when a photographer captures the essence of what you’re looking for in a single shot.” 

Finding Patty was more straightforward, with Skeggs’ audition tape making an instant impression. “I saw Emily’s tape and she blew me away,” Rehmeier remembers. “I talked with her and pretty much gave her the job on the spot.”

In the film we are introduced to Simon and Patty separately, in a series of confrontational meal time scenes. They are soon thrust together by chance and form a bond that takes them on a wild, punk rock adventure. They encounter drug dealers, high school bullies, a dead cat, and various family members, all of which culminates in a poignant basement studio recording session that cements their relationship and centers the film.

While a Southeast Michigan audience might be able to spot some locales—Southfield plays a major role, as the setting for Patty’s family home—for O’Grady the choice to set the film in Detroit’s suburbs was about finding a good match for the story, as well as creating a unique cinematic world. “For a local audience those places are easily identifiable,” he says. “But for an international audience, it just looks like a place you’ve never seen before on camera. [That] really lends itself to the film feeling like its own world independent of the world around it.”

Dinner In America had a raucous premiere screening at the Sundance Film Festival in January, something neither Rehmeier or O’Grady were prepared for. “It was the wildest premiere screening I’ve ever been to,” says O’Grady. “I’ve never seen an audience reaction like it. Yelling out loud and clapping and screaming throughout.”

“Seeing the reactions from so many people over the course of [the festival] was pretty profound for me,” says Rehmeier. “I was surprised at how universal it was—I thought originally that it would resonate more with 18-30 year olds, but it seemed to resonate with older people, and of all walks of life. People fall in love with Patty and Simon sort of as Patty and Simon fall in love.”

“My favorite reaction that Adam told me about,” says O’Grady, “was an elderly woman who came up to him after a screening and said the movie was punk as f—.”

“No she said I was punk as f—,” Rehmeier chimes in.

“That’s even better!”

“She grabbed me by the shoulders and said, ‘You’re punk as f—!’ I turned around and said, ‘Hey lady, you’re punk as f— too.’”

Early reviews have also been positive. According to Variety, the film “has a bright comic look and energy to it, with every design contribution from Jean-Philippe Bernier’s widescreen lensing to John Swihart’s thumping electro-trash score upping the viewer’s happy-pill dosage.” Collider, meanwhile, says: “There’s a real sweetness to the film, a smile behind its sneer, so if you’re looking for a romantic comedy about a couple of misfits, one set to a punk-powered soundtrack, you’ll eat this Dinner up.”

Catch the Midwest premiere of Dinner In America and hear more from Rehmeier, O’Grady, and leads Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor on Thursday, February 27, at 8 PM.

Get your tickets here.