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 Post subject: Kent Jones: Diane (2018)
PostPosted: Sat Apr 06, 2019 4:14 pm 
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A woman's quiet late-life crisis is a fine, if grim, role for the great Mary Kay Place

A bright young man I used to accompany to the movies for years told me on our first outing: sometimes he found he couldn't tell from one of my reviews whether I liked the film or not. Ouch. (Right away he took charge, at age fourteen.) Well, that was fourteen years ago. He's grown up and fully able to go to all the "R" pictures he wants on his own, but too busy to go, and, in the event, involved in music instead of film, as it had seemed he might be when we started. I haven't gone anywhere, and my reviews probably still often leave you guessing. Take Kent Jones's Diane, for instance. I can't tell you whether I liked it or not. Maybe I just don't want you to know. It's too complicated!

Diane is an impressive, richly textured feature directorial debut by Kent Jones. It better be. He's the director of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center - a festival for which I have a tremendous admiration, and one that is notably organized not as a cross section, but as an elite culling of the year's very best films. This film features one of my favorite American character actresses, Mary Kay Place. She has often delighted me with the dry and funny edge she gives to a role. But she doesn't get a chance to do that very much here. Too much weight is on her shoulders. In this display of quiet troubled heroism under life's stresses, she is impeccable, but doesn't get to display her comedic gifts.

The actors and the setting (scenes of small town New England winter handsomely photographed by dp Wyatt Garfield) carry most of the weight and deliver most of the quality of this well crafted film - finely delineated in each individual scene. Where it falls a bit short is overall, in the key element of dramatic structure, and storytelling. The scenes are strung together. They don't build as much as they might. And yet they are excellent!

The film is the portrait of a woman of seventy striving to keep it together in the face of a haunting sense of guilt for past misdeeds and the recurrent drug addiction of her grownup son Brian (Jake Lacy), age thirty, already more than once in rehab over the years and in need of it again, but unwilling. Repeatedly she visits him and he tells her to fuck off. She goes the rounds of sick friends, a close relative, an old friend with cancer (Dierdre O'Connell, Phyllis Somerville, part of a roster of fine veteran character actors), a free "country kitchen" for the poor where she doles out food and politeness, like with Tom (Charles Weldon), an African American of a certain age but fine bearing (and surprisingly perfect teeth) whose self esteem plummets when he comes here but is raised by Diane's respect.

Diane's good deeds are marred by the fact that some of the ladies she's visiting and helping hold things against her, or in the words of one, "forgive" but don't "forget," and it's also suggested, particularly in a late scene with her son, that some of her guilt feelings are excessive. On his own, without warning, Brian has run off to rehab on Cape Cod, and turned into a sanctimonious bore with a born again girlfriend, now his wife. Then he reappears on his own, to Diane, drunk, to tell her that a lot of the disapproval he heaped upon her was a shared fiction, not really felt. She may have messed up. And her son's disappearance has caused her to get drunk on margaritas at an old haunt (the actress's chance to modulate into a different mode).

This may sound perfectly coherent, but it feels meandering, even if one main point is how Diane is ever on the run from herself. The rhythm of her repeated car rides along snowy roads is, in that sense, essential character development. She's diligent in the pursuit of the disease and death of others yet somehow unable to settle down and be an old person herself facing her own eventual decline. And this is a dilemma that stays with you.

Every scene is nicely detailed, but that doesn't keep the narrative from feeling repetitive. Details of Diane's past are kept vague. It's good to be in the present, and spared flashbacks. Showing Diane keeping a diary, taking notes, and trying to put together a poem seems a sketchy, external way of presenting her inner life. Still, isn't that the way we perceive another person - at one remove? Mary Kay Place is too good an actress not to seem utterly real in every scene.

Even as I watched I remembered another grim, but also funny winter New England tale, Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea, which is dark, sad, ironic, surprising, hilarious, and has lines and scenes that ring in the memory. Just talking about it makes me want to watch it again. As good as the scenes in Diane are, they never have that zing. But why should they? Though set in New England and about death, Diane is a quite different film from Manchester by the Sea. I didn't just compare them. I just seemed to. Diane is its own kind of movie. And even if it didn't quite satisfy me, I'm not promising it won't be around at the end of the year when my year's best are being lined up. Kent Jones is working in it in the kind of rigorous, unpopular, serious vein film critics just have to gravitate to. So don't judge me too quickly, and keep an open mind about this film. Thanks to Kent Jones for giving Mary Kay Place this big role.

Diane, 95 mins., debuted at Tribeca last April (winning best cinematography, best narrative feature, and best screenplay), and and was included in at least 16 other international festivals (with numerous nominations), including Locarno , Vancouver, Stockholm and Hong Kong. it opened streaming and in theaters last week (29 Mar. 2019). Available on YouTube, Amazon Prime, and Google Play. Metascore 87, denoting general rave reviews.

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