25 years ago, writer-director Sacha Gervasi met and interviewed the talented yet troubled Hervé Villechaize before his tragic death, since then Gervasi has tirelessly attempted to make a film about that deeply personal experience and he finally succeeded with TV movie My Dinner with Hervé, a biographical depiction of the late actor’s difficult life told via flashback through the use of Gervasi’s own interview with Villechaize.
Peter Dinklage takes the role of the titular Hervé and gives a breath-taking performance from start to finish which is thankful considering he has been signed on to star for almost eight years. Dinklage nails Villechaize’s unique vocals and paints a truly lamentable visage of a man who has fallen so far. Gervasi makes the decision of fictionalising the reporter that interviews him, creating the character of Danny Tate, a recovering alcoholic who too has lost a lot in his life (played by Jamie Dornan who puts in a solid performance here in his own right). Gervasi clearly chose to do this so that he could have the two characters bounce off each other comparing their similarities and differences but unfortunately drags the film into cliché melodrama and predictable life lessons that are learnt by both men at the end of the film.
Where the film shines however, is whenever it focuses on the life of Villechaize; from his awful upbringing under a mother who could never love him, to his interest in artistry, to his big move to the US and making it big in a James Bond film before finding a comfortable space as part of the cast of the 70s’ hit series Fantasy Island. It’s fascinating to watch Villechaize’s almost ‘lightning in a bottle’ type fame come and go and see how everything the actor endured shaped him to form the man we see being interviewed by Tate. I only wish they focused more on that transformation.
The film is not all sadness and regret. We get glimpses of colourful characters in Villachaize’s life such as his Fantasy Island co-star Ricardo Montalbán (Andy Garcia), his agent Marty Rothstein (David Strathairn) and Kathy Self (Mireille Enos) who proves to be very important to Villachaize later in his life. These supporting characters are all bursting with charisma and interest but as this is mainly a story about Villachaize’s relationship with Tate, they’re all not given nearly enough screen time to develop.
Dinklage is a shoe-in for recognition come to the TV awards circuit next year and this very well may be a career best for him. He is by far the main thing holding this story together and in the hands of a lesser actor, the product could easily have fallen apart into a piece deserving of little credit. Gervasi’s direction is solid but his script is lacking and it’s a shame that he ended up relying on a fictional relationship and a by the numbers fall from grace storyline over the genuinely interesting life of its subject. That being said, if Dinklage is what brought you here in the first place then you shan’t be disappointed as he truly is phenomenal.