Diane (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): As she takes care of others

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“Diane”, which won three awards including the one for Best Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival in last year and was recently shown at the Jeonju International Film Festival in this week, is a little character drama about one ordinary woman who has been quite accustomed to taking care of others around her. As calmly and sensitively observing small ups and downs of her melancholic daily routines, the movie gives us a plain but unforgettable slice of life, and it certainly helps that the movie is anchored well by a bunch of wonderful performances to be appreciated.

Mary Kay Place, a character actress who appeared in numerous films such as “The Rainmaker” (1997) and “Being John Malkovich” (1999), plays Diane, a middle-aged woman who has lived in some small town of Massachusetts for many years. While living alone in her house, her daily life mainly consists of several different things to do for her close relatives and neighbors, and we frequently see her going here and there in the town by her car throughout the film. At one point earlier in the film, she drops by a house belonging to one of her neighbors for giving back something she thinks she should have returned several months ago, and then we get a little sweet moment when the neighbor responds to Diane with same kind consideration.

Although she seems to feel good about being selfless for others, Diane has not been that happy in her private life. Her cousin Donna (Deirdre O’Connell) has been dying due to her terminal illness, and there is nothing Diane can do for Donna except often visiting Donna at a local hospital where she is going to spend her little remaining time. The mood is cheerful whenever Donna feels fine enough to play a card game with Diane, but both of them are well aware of how Donna’s medical condition gets worse day by day, and it later turns out that neither of them forgets a hurtful incident which happened between them a long time ago.

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In case of Diane’s addict son Brian (Jake Lacy), he has been a major headache for her, but she keeps trying to help her son as much as possible despite her growing frustration and exasperation. When she happens to come to her son’s shabby place, she is not so pleased to see him hitting another bottom of his addiction, but she does not give up her son at all for a personal reason to be revealed later in the story, and she tries to persuade her son to go through another round of rehabilitation even though she knows that her son will not listen to her.

At least, things are not always gloomy for Diane, and we see how she is helped and supported by others around her. When she gets too drunk at a local bar just after going through another moment of frustration in her daily life, two people close to her instantly come to the bar for taking her back to her home, and that is one of the most touching moments in the film. When she suddenly gets quite exasperated while working at a place for homeless people, her co-worker/friend quickly intervenes in this situation, and we see how she tactfully has Diane calm down herself a bit.

And Diane comes to have some reflection on her life in private. Becoming more aware of her mortality via the eventual death of several old people around her, she begins to write down her feelings and thoughts, and we later get a surreal scene which seems to be the subconscious reflection of her old guilt over how she came to hurt not only Donna but also young Brian due to her rather selfish act at that time.

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Although its story stumbles a bit during its last act, the movie keeps engaging us via its realistic mood and vivid characters, and director/writer Kent Jones, who has been mainly known as a film critic and the director the New York Film Festival and previously directed documentary feature film “Hitchcock/Truffaut” (2015), and his crew members did a competent job on the whole as constantly generating small human scenes to draw our attention. I particularly like a warm, lively scene where Diane and a group of other characters in the film talk a lot with each other during one evening, and I guarantee to you that you will be quite impressed by the palpable sense of life and personality during this scene.

It goes without saying that Place’s unadorned nuanced performance is the heart and soul of the film, but the other notable performers in the film have each own moment to shine, and they all are fabulous in their solid supporting performances. While Jake Lacy, who drew my attention via his supporting roles in “Obvious Child” (2014) and “Carol” (2015), reminds me again that he is indeed an interesting actor to watch, I was also delighted to watch Deirdre O’Connell, Glynnis O’Connor, Joyce Van Patten, Phyllis Somerville, Andrea Martin, and Estelle Parsons (Remember her Oscar-winning supporting turn in “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967)?), and they did not disappoint me at all as playing their respective supporting role with small fine human details to be observed.

Overall, “Diane” is worthwhile to watch for its thoughtful storytelling and superlative performances, and it certainly deserves more attention considering that it was unfortunately overlooked after it was released in US a few months ago. Although it initially looks modest on the surface, it will be a rewarding experience once you give it a chance, and you will not easily forget Diane and other characters in the film after it is over.

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