August 13, 2001 12:00 PM

HBO (Sat., Aug. 11, 9 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

What are friends for? That’s a key question in this thought-provoking film, directed by Norman Jewison and scripted by Donald Margulies from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

Tom (Greg Kinnear) has walked out of his 12-year union with Beth (Toni Collette), the mother of his two children, and taken up with his travel agent. Listening to Tom’s side of the story, his old pal Gabe (Dennis Quaid) urges an attempt to save the marriage. “I don’t want to know what you think,” Tom says straight out. When Gabe continues to withhold moral support, Tom turns bitter. Gabe’s wife, Karen (Andie MacDowell), initially sympathetic to Beth as the wronged woman, disapproves when her friend finds a new love in a matter of months. Beth responds by lashing out at Karen, inflicting wounds that may not heal. Are Gabe and Karen doing their friends a favor by offering an honest assessment of their behavior? Or are they simply afraid to shut up and consider that any “happy” marriage—including their own—could be a facade?

Although Kinnear is just right as a lawyer making a sometimes persuasive case for his midlife irresponsibility, it’s hard to accept Quaid as a food critic who rhapsodizes about the pomodoro. And we’re left with a sense that Margulies can’t bring himself to examine Gabe and Karen’s relationship too closely. But Dinner with Friends gives us much to chew on.

Bottom Line: Make a reservation

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