×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Diane’

Mary Kay Place is superb as a regretful boomer who has grown older, but maybe no wiser, in the haunting first dramatic feature from Kent Jones.

Director:
Kent Jones
With:
Mary Kay Place, Jake Lacy, Estelle Parsons, Andrea Martin, Deirdre O’Connell, Phyllis Somerville, Glynnis O’Connor, Joyce Van Patten.
Release Date:
Apr 22, 2018

Official Site: https://www.tribecafilm.com/filmguide/diane-2018

When you’re young, people who are old — like, say, your grandparents or your elderly neighbors — can seem as if they were always that way. But in reality, there’s no neat and magical line that separates “old” and “young.” Old people are, quite simply, former young people. And now, more than ever, they may not see or experience themselves as old even if the rest of the world does. The boomers, of course, are the ones who changed all this. They have not gone quaintly, or quietly, into senior-citizen status. On the contrary, they’ve reconfigured old age to mean nothing more (or less) than how often they’ve been around the block. The new vision of old age is that you’re still tied, physically and spiritually, in every way possible, to who you were when you weren’t old.

Diane,” written and directed by Kent Jones (with Martin Scorsese serving as executive producer), is the most accomplished dramatic feature I’ve seen at the Tribeca Film Festival. It’s a tender, wrenching, and beautifully made movie, and part of what’s revelatory about it is that it’s a story of boomers who are confronting the ravages of old age (disease and death, the waning of dreams), yet they’re doing it with a stubborn echo of the hopes and desires they had when they were younger. They’re getting on, but the movie is keenly aware, in a way that movies almost never are, that they remain every inch who they were. The past hangs over “Diane” not just as burden or nostalgia (though it can be that, too) but as an enthralling and entangling reminder of life’s mystery.

The title character is a widow, played by the 70-year-old Mary Kay Place, who lives in rural Massachusetts, where she has spent the better part of her life. Her neighbors include friends and relatives who go back with her for decades; they’re a time-worn community. Yet everyone seems separate, somehow. Diane’s days are filled with encounters — she has lunches with her good friend, Bobbie (Andrea Martin), at the local buffet, a place where they both agree that the food is terrible, and she plays gin rummy with her cousin, Donna (Deirdre O’Connell), who’s in the hospital fighting a losing battle with cervical cancer.

She also spends a great deal of time — too much of it — looking after her son, Brian (Jake Lacy), who’s around 30 and has made a mess of his life. He has no job, his house is a dirty wreck, and he’s an addict (his drug of choice, given the stupor he gets in when he’s high, appears to be opioids or heroin, though we’re never told), struggling with the lies that mask his apparently losing battle with recovery. Brian, it’s implied, has been Diane’s ne’er-do-well albatross for years, and their fraught relationship is starting to drag her down, but the interplay between these two, like everything else in the film, is ferociously present tense. (Lacy has some of the bright-eyed volatility of the young Vincent D’Onofrio.) Jones’ dialogue is layered with hints of what happened in the past, but you never catch him showing his hand in an expository way. The scenes percolate with inner life, creating the sense that we’re eavesdropping.

“Diane” is anecdotal in form, but it’s a true journey, all built around Mary Kay Place’s remarkable performance. Her Diane is a churchgoer, with an ingrained belief that it’s her job to take care of others; she delivers casseroles to friends and serves food at a homeless shelter. But she does it with a very old school kind of tough love. She doesn’t hesitate to call Brian out on his chicanery (the movie captures a reality of addicts that too often remains unspoken: that they can be egregiously annoying), and though she’s surrounded by a circle of supportive women, she has a way of lashing out at their weak spots. Beneath her becalmed surface, Diane is haunted, carrying shadows from her past, and that’s the puzzle we put together as we watch the movie — the story of her own addiction and selfish passion (that weekend at the Cape! when she abandoned her young son to have an affair), which has guided the karma of her life in ways she never expected, leading to the moment of invisible reckoning she’s at now.

Place’s performance has a forlorn gravity, but it’s also full of spirit and pluck, and an anger you don’t want to get in the way of. At times, she may remind you of Gena Rowlands; there are also hints of Place’s background as a comedian. It’s not that Diane goes around cracking jokes so much as that, on some level, she’s bitterly amused at the people who surround her. She has everyone’s number.

The way old age reveals itself in “Diane,” apart from the stark fact that the people Diane knows keep dying, is that the characters have been around too long to bother putting on airs. Sitting in a kitchen, they drink and smoke and call each other on the same bulls—t rationalizations they’ve been peddling for years. Jones’ dialogue is scalpel-sharp, yet it flows with an organic ease. And though this is his first dramatic feature (he has made several documentaries, including the superb “Hitchcock/Truffaut”), he directs with an unusually skilled precision and sensuality. “Diane” has a marvelous atmosphere of New England melancholy, with eerie glass-harmonica music and images of thick bare foliage, often shot from a driver’s–seat–eye–view, that are suffused with a luminous but lonely twilight glow. The story takes its time, but will flip ahead to shock us with the matter-of-fact news of a character’s death. In “Diane,” death happens and life goes on, though maybe with a heightened chill.

There’s a mournfulness to “Diane,” but the movie is never sodden — it’s intensely enjoyable and alive. Jones stages scenes that have a bristling power, like one in which Diane guzzles margaritas at the bar she used to hang out at, losing herself at the jukebox as she sways to Leon Russell (in a flash, 30 years seem to melt away), or the stupendous dinner-table argument that takes place at Brian’s house after he figures out a deeply flawed way to save himself. And the film’s ending is majestic. It’s a vision of turmoil and peace and mystery and memory, along with something that hasn’t always accompanied this generation’s journey into old age: a glimpse of God.

Film Review: 'Diane'

Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Feature Narrative), April 23, 2018. Running time: 95 MIN.

Production: An AgX, Sight Unseen Picture production. Producers: Luca Borghese, Ben Howe, Caroline Kaplan, Oren Movermen. Executive producers: Martin Scorsese, Leonid Lebedev, Julia Lebedev, Edward Vaisman.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Kent Jones. Camera (color, widescreen): Wyatt Garfield. Editor: Mike Selemon. Music: Jeremiah Bornfield.

With: Mary Kay Place, Jake Lacy, Estelle Parsons, Andrea Martin, Deirdre O’Connell, Phyllis Somerville, Glynnis O’Connor, Joyce Van Patten.

More Film

  • 'Shazam!' Review: Zachary Levi is Pure

    Film Review: 'Shazam!'

    In “Shazam!,” Zachary Levi brings off something so winning it’s irresistible. He plays a square-jawed, rippling-muscled man of might, with a cheesy Day-Glo lighting bolt affixed to his chest, who projects an insanely wholesome and old-fashioned idea of what a superhero can be. But he’s also playing a breathless teenage kid on the inside, and [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Showrunners, Screenwriters Back WGA in Agency Battle, Sides to Meet Again Tuesday

    More than 750 showrunners and screenwriters have backed the WGA’s battle against talent agencies taking packaging fees and other changes to the rules governing the business relationship between agents and writers. The letter of support issued Saturday is significant because of the immense clout showrunners and prominent screenwriters possess in Hollywood. Several showrunners had recently [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: 'Us' on Track for Second-Highest Debut of 2019 With $67 Million

    Jordan Peele’s “Us” is on its way to scaring up one of the biggest debuts of 2019, with an estimated $67 million from 3,741 North American locations. Should estimates hold, “Us” will be able to claim several milestones: the highest debut for an original horror movie (the biggest launch for any horror pic goes to [...]

  • NF_D_JGN-D6-2160.cr2

    Film Review: 'The Dirt'

    A long time ago, the words sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll carried a hint of danger. The lifestyle did, too, but I’m talking about the phrase. It used to sound cool (back around the time the word “cool” sounded cool). But sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has long since passed into the realm [...]

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba in Talks to Join Andy Serkis in 'Mouse Guard'

    Idris Elba is in negotiations to join Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Fox’s fantasy-action movie “Mouse Guard” with “Maze Runner’s” Wes Ball directing. Fox is planning a live-action movie through performance capture technology employed in the “Planet of the Apes” films, in which Serkis starred as the ape leader Caesar. David Peterson created, wrote, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content