(2001)3.5Brian J. DillardSharp writing and measured performances save this made-for-cable character study from its own deadly serious tone. An extended meditation on the nature of marriage and the need of married people to see their own compromises and value judgements upheld by those around them, Dinner With Friends would seem hopelessly old-fashioned if it weren't for the nuanced writing of playwright/screenwriter Donald Margulies, who leaves just enough leeway for the audience to draw its own conclusions about which characters are more in touch with themselves -- the couple whose marriage ends in bitter divorce or the one that stays together through all of marriage's difficult concessions. Greg Kinnear employs his particular brand of loathsome handsomeness to appropriately unlikable effect as the husband whose infidelity ends his own marriage and threatens that of his best friends; Toni Collette plays his equally self-absorbed wife with the same neurotic charisma she brought to bear in Velvet Goldmine and The Sixth Sense. The real stars, though, are Andie MacDowall and Dennis Quaid, as the married friends who can barely bear to see their matchmaking gone awry. Few actresses are as reliable yet under-appreciated as MacDowall; here, as usual, she displays a shrewd intelligence underneath her placidly attractive exterior. Quaid, for his part, continues his transition into less hunky, more middle-aged roles with a performance whose depth is a function of its seeming effortlessness. Margulies' script employs a few easy ironies and seems too elliptical in places, but Norman Jewison's character-driven direction helps connect the dots. Some of the facetious humor Woody Allen brought to bear on this subject in 1992's Husbands and Wives would have made Dinner With Friends seem a little less uptight, but viewers who are sympathetic to an earnest, suburban take on Allen's urban relationship study will find this picture a well-observed and insightful exercise.