Synopsis: A group of college-age buddies struggle with their imminent passage into adulthood in 1959 Baltimore.
Stars: Steve Guttenberg, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Tim Daly, Ellen Barkin, Daniel Stern, Paul Reiser
Director: Barry Levinson
Running Length: 110 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: In the early 80’s director Levinson was shopping around his Diner script to various studios. While not necessarily new to Hollywood, Levinson was an unproven director and the script was far from the usual teen fare that was becoming so popular. How fortunate was it, then, that Warner Brothers took a chance on the young director/screenwriter and released Diner in 1982. If Diner would to be released today, it might be classified as an art-house film and shipped directly to Lagoon or Uptown. While it does have a bit of an indie-vibe to it, there is freshness to the proceedings that defy categorization.
By now I’ve gotten used to the ‘yadda-yadda’ type of dialogue that is mostly about nothing but requires the audience to pay attention and figure out what these guys are really talking about. Set in Baltimore in the 50’s before people (especially a group of guys) outwardly spoke about their fears and doubts about being grown-ups…Diner has a unique patter to it that draws you in quickly and gets you in its rhythm. With an almost Shakespearean ear for dialogue, Levinson sketches these men for us and then lets the performances color in their various nuances and shades.
Boasting a killer cast of before-they-were-stars slice of young Hollywood, the movie follows a gathering a buddies as they discuss everything from women to religion to food to sports…mostly in their favorite diner hangout. Guttenberg’s Eddie is preparing for his wedding by getting a sports quiz ready for his fiancé. If she gets a certain percentage of the questions wrong then the wedding is off…and the scene were the off-screen quiz is administered is an absolute riot as friends, family, and neighbors all listen in to see if they’ll need to return their wedding gift or not. Rourke is the part time gambler and hairdresser Boogie, Bacon is the clownish Fenwick, Daly is the mostly grounded Billy and Stern is the recently married Shrevie. The lone female with anything to do is Barkin as Shrevie’s wife. She and Stern didn’t get along too much off screen which probably helped their tumultuous onscreen relationship.
Levinson’s piece is largely autobiographical and he would go on to write several more movies set in Baltimore that were personal in nature (Tin Men, Avalon, and Liberty Heights). It’s plain to see that Levinson has love for his hometown and the characters he has created here. Largely influential in how ensemble pieces were written ever after, Diner holds up as a fine example of the perfect combination of performance, script, and direction.