Saturday, September 17, 2005

Movie Review: Diner

United States, 1982
U.S. Release Date: 3/5/05
Running Time: 1:50
Rated: R
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Timothy Daly, Ellen Barkin, Paul Reiser

Director: Barry Levinson
Producers: Jerry Weintraub, Mark Johnson
Screenplay: Barry Levinson
Studio: MGM

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Have you ever entered a restaurant to convene with company more so than to dine? For some reason, when friends meet at table, familial bonds develop; it’s not only the served sustenance that keeps them nourished, but it’s also the communal conversation and the ephemeral laughter. Barry Levinson’s directorial debut, Diner, skillfully depicts a succinct link between six friends’ love for gravy fries, cherry-cola, and each other.

Set during the Christmas Season of 1959, in the city of Baltimore, Diner showcases a pack of brotherly best friends who are wrestling with the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Shrevie (Daniel Stern) is having trouble communicating with his recently wed wife, Beth (Ellen Barkin). Eddie (Steve Guttenberg) is set to tie the knot with his fiancée, but first, his soon-to-be bride must pass a quiz on Eddie’s beloved Baltimore Colts. In the meantime, Boogie (Mickey Rourke) – the sly hairdresser/law student – digs himself into deep debt with the local bookie, and Fenwick (Kevin Bacon) drinks his troubles away; Modell (Paul Reiser) continues to “beat around the bush,” and Billy (Timothy Daly) pleads with his pregnant girlfriend to marry him so they can raise their child together.

As the young men discuss everything from women and football, to rock n’ roll and cars, first-time writer/director Barry Levinson does a praiseworthy job. Levinson succeeds in vacuuming the viewers’ focus into characters that are amiable and relatable. He cleverly incorporates both a spectacular spat over a roast beef sandwich and a superb discussion between Eddie and Shrevie concerning the married life. In addition, Levinson also makes the wise decision of keeping a trivial character’s face hidden from sight to avoid any unnecessary attachment.

Serving as the springboard for all seven of the film’s main players, Diner elevated every one of its twenty-somethings into Hollywood success. Even though Rourke and Guttenberg basically scrapped their acting careers with boxing and the Police Academy series respectively, both shine as if they were on their way to superstardom. On the other hand, while Stern and Barkin both dole out emotionally superb performances, Bacon and Daly merely blend in with the background.

Unfortunately, Diner does exhibit a few weaknesses in cohesiveness, attention to detail, and establishing a core built on emotional sentimentality. The film’s intro and outro feel void of much-needed drama, and its pacing could be better throughout. Perhaps the most tiresome of Diner’s downfalls is its inability to make musicians look like musicians. When anyone playing a musical instrument is visible, no effort is taken to make their hands appear remotely in rhythm with the recording. Nonetheless, the picture’s faults (big or small) do not bog down the production enough to cause the film to be forgettable.

The picture’s best aspects are in its witty chatter and its coming-of-age camaraderie. Diner is a film that champions conversation and promotes personal growth. Moreover, it is Steve Guttenberg’s lone shining moment and much more intellectually appetizing than Porky’s as an 80’s anthem for young adults. In fact, in most cases, the post-pubescent connection with the characters is so strong that you feel like you’re sitting in the nearby steel-and-vinyl booth—eavesdropping on the young men’s friendly banter.

Through the metaphorical comparison of a single frame found mid-film, which depicts the marrying of ketchup, Diner’s theme can be perfectly realized. Just as the tomato paste slowly slides from one glass bottle to another, Diner’s male characters shift from immaturity and manhood; their old self is left behind, and a new feeling of being complete, full-hearted, and actualized is found. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005