Friday, August 5, 2011

#364. Diner (1982)

Directed By: Barry Levinson

Starring: Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon

Tag line: "What They Wanted Most Wasn't On The Menu"

Trivia:  It is claimed that James Spader is a dancing extra for a few seconds in the opening scene

Barry Levinson’s Diner is about the nature of friendship. The film’s main characters - six twentysomething buddies living in 1950s Baltimore - spend a lot of time together. Whether at a dance or hanging out at the local diner, these guys always enjoy each others' company. 

Outside of the group, not a one of them has much to say.

Billy (Tim Daly) has just returned home from college to serve as the Best Man at his friend Eddie's (Steve Guttenburg) wedding, only to discover the marriage is still tentative; Eddie intends to call the whole thing off if his bride-to-be fails a football quiz! 

Boogie (Mickey Rourke) is a hairdresser who likes to gamble. In fact, he owes money to just about every bookie in town. 

Shrevie (Daniel Stern) is a whiz at music trivia, and can tell you what song was on the flip side of every rock and roll single ever released. What Shrevie isn’t very good at is making his wife, Beth (Ellen Barkin), happy. 

Fenwick (Kevin Bacon) is a rich kid whose family disowned him when he dropped out of school, and Modell (Paul Reiser), the comedian of the group, is always cracking jokes.

With these characters, Diner gives us six young men at different stages of life. Shrevie is the only married one of the group, yet for him, marriage has become an empty experience. He and Beth have very little in common, and at one point Shrevie even yells at her for not taking an interest in music. 

Eddie is next in line to tie the knot, but fears his marriage will be equally bland and lifeless, which is the reason his fiance has to pass a Football quiz: to ensure they have something to talk about. A devout Colts fan, Eddie takes his football very seriously, and expects any woman he marries to do the same (of course, neither he nor Shrevie bother to explore the interests of their significant other). 

Fenwick comes from a wealthy family, and is very intelligent (while watching a television game show, he answers all of the questions correctly), but is also in the early stages of alcoholism, while Boogie, the spiritual leader of the group, is a compulsive gambler. 

Throughout Diner, Levinson builds a strong camaraderie between these characters, which leads to moments that are both hilarious and heartwarming. Yet, ultimately, it’s a bond that hasn't done a single one of them much good. Strong as a team, each one falls apart when facing the world alone.

Diner is a fascinating character study of men at a crossroads in their lives; too old to be hanging out all the time, yet not old enough to realize it. The daily responsibilities of life are only now starting to catch up with them, but when they’re at the diner, eating French fries with gravy and talking about Johnny Mathis and Frank Sinatra, the outside world simply melts away. 

They can still see it, of course, over their menus and through the frosted windows, but it doesn’t bother them in the least. And even when life does close in, it never really penetrates.

Maybe it never will...if they always have the diner to protect them.


AdamMoody said...

How ironic, I have been planning on watching this a lot lately. Nice review, I now am even more excited to watch it.

DVD Infatuation said...

Adam: It's definitely worth a watch. Thanks for stopping by, and for the comment!

Chimesfreedom-Pophistory said...

Nice review. I agree that "Diner" is an excellent movie. Few movies have such a great ensemble cast. While the movie is funny and even a little outrageous at a few points, it always seems honest.

Now I want to go watch it again. . .

DVD Infatuation said...

@Chimesfreedom-Pophistory: "Honest" is the perfect word to describe this film. You may not always like how the characters behave, but it is definitely HOW they would behave in the given situations.

Thanks for the comment, and for the kind words.