To his local bodega proprietor, he’s the bad guy who tortures Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man. Indelibly, actor-director André Gregory is also Wallace Shawn’s velvet-voiced dinner companion in 1981’s My Dinner with André—essentially a commercial for sophisticated NYC chat. But as seen in this gentle, affectionate profile (made by Gregory’s wife), the 78-year-old storyteller is, at root, a working professional, enlivened by his long-term collaborators in the theater. From some truly funky footage of Gregory’s 1970 avant-garde Alice in Wonderland to recent rehearsals for his Shawn-starring Master Builder (and, in between, Julianne Moore tearing it up in Vanya on 42nd Street), Gregory’s impact is most felt onstage, freeing up grateful actors in a live environment.
Cindy Kleine’s portrait rambles, in a somewhat fitting way, through Gregory’s privileged L.A. childhood, his emotionally distant parents (his father was implicated as a Nazi collaborator) and their brainy domestic life, filled with dinners and art shows. To some, André Gregory: Before and After Dinner will feel like a bagel-and-schmear cliché of self-involved urbanity. Still, its subject is too richly philosophical for the movie to ever be boring, at least not in the context of other hyperaware Manhattanites. The film doesn’t need the health scare at the end to give it shape; this is another dinner conversation that races and lingers, making you want to do more with your own life.
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