My girlfriend says that men should talk to each other more; like women do. That if we took the time to just sit and chat, we would discover how many things of substance and worth we really have inside ourselves. ‘Diner’ goes a long way to destroying that idea.
Diner is the sort of film that seems to be content with simply existing. Like ‘The Breakfast Club’, ‘American Graffiti’, ‘Beautiful Girls’ or ‘Swingers’, there seems to be no pressure to have an extravagant plot, nor to rush with what story it does have. Instead, it sets out to provide us with interesting characters who offer alternate perspectives on our own lives.
Of course, there’s always a hook. Where Swingers would later come along and reinvigorate the ‘men sitting around talking about girls’ genre against a cyclorama of swing music, clubs and culture, Diner is set in the middle America of the 1950’s; Where the burger joint is the place to go and baseball is all you talk about. While American Graffiti used the same setting for the same type of film, Diner sweeps itself with a much broader, if rougher, brush.
The characters on whom our interest in this movie relies all suffer from varying degrees of the ‘Peter Pan Complex’. Despite subplots involving marriage and other big-boy topics, the men are stuck with the psyches of high school students. ‘Shrevie’ (Daniel Stern) values his record collection, and knowledge thereof, above anything else. He is the only married character, but he struggles to consolidate his desire to keep up with his friends’ lifestyle and to keep his wife happy. Timothy (Kevin Bacon), the youngest, exhibits his immaturity in a destructive streak and the only time he doesn’t seem half-drunk is when he is completely drunk.
Eddie (Steve Guttenberg) won’t marry his fiancé until she passes a football test he has constructed for her. ‘Boogie’ (Mickey Rourke) places a bet with most of the town on a date grabbing his ‘pecker’- To validate the wager, he needs to accomplish it in public. As you can most likely tell, the conversations between these men do not reach the upmost levels of intellectual intercourse, but they are familiar.
Paul Reiser, Timothy Daly and Ellen Barkin round out an impressive cast of largely first-time performances.
Barry Levinson’s direction of his autobiographical script is steady and casual, while his script seems to swing uneasily between wry comic observations and a mildly stoic poignancy. Certainly, however, this is an assured effort for the first directorial task of one of Hollywood’s most uneven helmers (from ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ and ‘Rain Man’ to ‘Toys’ in two steps).
Greys and blues permeate the picture, washing everything out in a permanent quasi-dusk, even at night, as though all the adventures within the titular eatery were taking place within those hours between school and dinner time.
Like the strongest moments of the brother-films mentioned above, the highlights here are the moments devoid of anything but silly banter between friends. In particular, a five minute argument about a roast beef sandwich lets us deep into the kind of free, casual relationship these boys share.
The diner’s metaphorical properties are highlighted when, utlimately, each character finds the need to move on from it. And it is on this level that ‘Diner’ works best; as a subtle dissection of the reluctance of men, no matter the decade, to truly commit themselves to an adult life.
Like a questionable meal from a small, suburban food outlet, this Diner is a little bland in the eating, but leaves you feeling full long after.
This is absolutely the perfect disc if you’re looking for a mono release with mastering so low you have to turn your amp all the way up to almost hear what’s being said. Dialogue, music and effects all mix in the front speaker with the kind of harmony you get during a Catholic march through Ireland. Play this immediately before a viewing of Star Wars to truly appreciate the mastering of the latter.
The picture has been given similar attention. Specks, dust and grain all dance around the screen throughout.
You can’t really tell where the people who were supposed to be creating a decent DVD transfer were during this project for Warner’s, except in this section, where you realize it wasn’t on the extras. The only substantial feature here is an interesting, if clinical, 30-minute documentary where everybody tries to say as many nice things about each other as possible. Mickey Rourke is the only noticeable absence from the cast, but everybody else speaks fondly of the filmmaking experience, and the legacy of the piece itself.
A thoroughly redundant Introduction contains two minutes of excerpts from the previously mentioned documentary where the cast tell you to enjoy the movie. Brilliant.
And that’s it.