Contrary to popular perception, the most excruciating scenarios in modern life do not occur onstage, at the dentist, when flying… but rather at the dining table. Cinema is bursting with examples of mealtime discomfort, suffering and humiliation. Here are a few of my favourites – but what others would you add to the list?
1. Scent of a Woman
Al Pacino serves up double ham in this dinner scene from his Oscar-winning portrayal of Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade. It was in The Godfather that Pacino famously avoided another potentially awkward mealtime by shooting Virgil Sollozzo and Police Captain McCluskey in the head at point blank range. Worth bearing in mind the next time someone starts talking about work at the table.
The intrepid Kazakhstani journalist heads to the southern US to learn about American culinary etiquette and unleashes a wave of bad taste. Sacha Baron Cohen works it like tragic-farce. The tragedy is in the viewer’s knowledge of what is about to befall Borat’s dining companions. The farce is in everything else.
3. American Beauty
Dropping out of convention has never been as enjoyable as when Lester Burnham quits his brain-sucking office job with the realisation that being miserable is not a price worth paying for anything. Here, it becomes apparent that the same applies to his marriage. Forget plastic bags fluttering in the breeze, this is all about plates of asparagus smashing against the wall.
4. Only God Forgives
You go to meet your boyfriend’s mum for the first time. She smokes. She gets your name wrong. She swears profusely. She shouts at her son, your partner, for not avenging the murder of his child-rapist brother. It’s difficult to imagine how the situation could be any more uncomfortable. Not to mention downright terrifying. Kristin Scott Thomas is as fearsome a gangster matriarch as they come. Gosling just looks perplexed.
This is why you shouldn’t take drugs. Irvine Welsh nails the anti-drugs message more effectively than any government-sponsored campaign. You won’t be going round there again in a hurry, will you Spud?