#255 Diner

(1982, Barry Levinson)

“Do you ever get the feeling that there’s something going on that we don’t know about?”

Remember those hazy days of June last year, when I reviewed American Graffiti? Remember when I watched the film in two sections because I found it so terminally dull to sit through in one sitting? Remember when I couldn’t figure out the menu for the Blu-Ray and how angry I felt at the film for being a self-indulgent exercise, simply existing so the director could relive his childhood?

You don’t remember any of that? Oh that’s right, you weren’t there outside of my review, so me merely regurgitating my experience and expecting you identify with it doesn’t really work, does it? Well, that was the problem with American Graffiti, and unfortunately it turns out that it wasn’t the only movie to suffer this problem. Enter Diner, Barry Levinson’s love letter to the late fifties.

Set in the last weeks of 1959 in Baltimore, Diner follows a group of friends in their early twenties as they hang out in a diner waiting for the wedding of Steve Guttenberg’s character. Meanwhile, Mickey Rourke does things, Daniel Stern has issues with his own wife and Kevin Bacon mopes around.

You may notice that I didn’t even bother with character names. This is because they were largely irrelevant. If I didn’t recognise the actors, I wouldn’t have been able to tell any of the characters apart since everyone is basically the same person. I can’t even sum up their collective hive-mind personality because they don’t really have one. Not even generic 1950s personalities. These guys are just flat and boring. The only semblance of a personality that they had seemed to be that none of them seemed like people I’d want to spend any significant portion of time with.

We have a character who is only agreeing to marry a woman if she can correctly answer a certain number of questions about American football. We have characters willing to sleep with their friend’s significant others at the drop of a hat. We have a character who goes into an absolute RAGE if someone messes up his convoluted record collection; a collection so OCD that even John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity would say was too obsessive. I’d allow these as bizarre character flaws if they had any redeeming qualities to balance it, but they simply don’t.

Perhaps this lack of good characterisation is made up for with an interesting plot. Oh wait, no. My plot summary should have revealed that there really isn’t a plot here at all. It’s basically a series of barely connecting scenes presenting a slice of life account of the main characters’ friendships. Slice of life can work, but a director really has to put, well, life into their characters or else it doesn’t work. And, as should be obvious, these characters were pretty damn lifeless.

Like American Graffiti, this is a film from a director desperately trying to relive his youth by dumping a bunch of guys similar to his own friends in front of the camera and then making the audience watch them do things with no real purpose. While sometimes something like this can work in movies, more needs to be done to draw the audience into the group than Diner even bothers trying. The audience feels permanently distant to this group of friends, sitting at the side failing to understand the in-jokes or even remember anyone’s name.

In fact, I would argue this is somehow worse than American Graffiti. Graffiti at least had some entertaining moments with Toad and his attempts to win over a girl with an ever-spiralling collection of lies, but this has none of that. It’s a bad movie from start to finish. It doesn’t even do a good job of representing the 1950s Baltimore that it sets out to celebrate so highly since we barely see any of it besides the titular diner and the main characters’ homes. At least Graffiti attempted to create the vibe of the city via the radio broadcasts.

Diner is another awful example of a director failing to produce a film for an audience for anyone other than himself, producing something that’s little better than a poorly-stitched together feature-length home movie. This movie actually made me angry in its sheer stubbornness to even resemble entertainment. How this movie made it onto the 1001 Movies You Must See list is beyond me.

Unless you like watching other people’s home videos, avoid this. If you must watch a Barry Levinson movie, may I recommend Rain Man or Good Morning Vietnam instead?

Starring Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Timothy Daly, Ellen Barkin, Paul Reiser & Claudia Cron
Written by Barry Levinson
Produced by Jerry Weintraub
Music by Bruce Brody & Ivan Kral
Cinematography by Peter Sova
Edited by Stu Linder

Favourite Scene: Considering the film made me so angry that I wanted to flip every table in the titular diner, it should be obvious I don’t have one.
Scene That Bugged Me: Not a scene, but a general feeling of “why should I care about these people at all?” And really, that football quiz was bollocks.

Watch it if: You were part of Barry Levinson’s social circle in the 1950s
Avoid it if: You’re anybody else in the world


Posted on February 7, 2014, in 1980s, Comedy and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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