The Big Chill star is Diane, a woman hiding from herself.
Diane is the kind of quiet gem that doesn’t get made (or seen) very much in the current movie landscape. It’s a character study of a 70-year-old woman who has spent most of her life focused on other people, maybe because she fears spending too much time alone with herself.
Mary Kay Place plays Diane, and it’s a wonderful showcase for a longtime familiar face that has popped up in movies as wildly different as The Big Chill and Being John Malkovich. Her performance is a model of understatement, full of unacknowledged emotional turmoil that she keeps secured within the character’s relatively stoic bearing.
When we meet Diane, the two main people upon whom she is focusing her attention are her cousin Donna (Deirdre O’Connell), who is slowly dying in a hospital bed, and her son Brian (Jake Lacy), who is succumbing to heroin addiction after a stint in rehab. As the film progresses, it becomes apparent that part of her need to focus on these two is not only natural concern, but possibly a lingering guilt that she let them down. That maybe this is her fault.
Diane is the first fiction feature from film festival organizer and critic Kent Jones (he did the Hitchcock/Truffaut documentary a few years back), and it is mostly a satisfying and assured debut. There are a few stray moments where the novice screenwriter overwrites the dialogue just a touch, recapitulating character details and dynamics that are otherwise obvious in the actors’ performances. (However, the man watching the film next to me did make a small “a-ha” noise at one of these on-the-nose observations, so clearly certain viewers might appreciate this occasional forthrightness.)
If nothing else, Diane is a coup in casting. In addition to the excellent central performances, the film features a supporting cast of character actor legends, including Oscar winner Estelle Parsons as Donna’s brash mother and SCTV alum Andrea Martin as Diane’s best pal.
Jones creates a community around Diane of people who would lend a hand, if she would ask for it. “You are not alone,” she is told. But Diane doesn’t seem to be able to hear it. And when she actually is alone, she refuses to face herself. One of the film’s key sequences shows her slowly getting blotto in a bar, the only person dancing (shyly) to the songs she has picked on the jukebox.
But eventually, Diane does begin to reflect seriously. The film shows her beginning to unlock her feelings, but it is smart enough not to try to “solve” her character in an hour and a half.
Diane is a film that is generous with its characters, with its actors, and certainly, with its audience.
Diane premieres theatrically in NY and LA, as well as on VOD, on Friday, March 29.
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Justin Remer makes movies, directs music videos, and plays in the bands Duck the Piano Wire and Elastic No-No Band when he is not writing movie reviews. His folk-rock documentary MAKING LOVERS & DOLLARS is currently streaming on Amazon.