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Early twenty-something Baltimoreans Eddie, Shrevie, Boogie, Billy, Fenwick and Modell have been friends since they were kids, where the center of their lives has been and still is the Fells Point Diner. It's the last week of 1959. Baltimore Colts fanatic Eddie is scheduled to get married to Elyse on New Year's Eve, but may call off the wedding if Elyse doesn't pass his Colts quiz which he will hold two days before the scheduled wedding. Inexperienced Eddie turns to the only other married one among the bunch, electronics salesman and music aficionado Shrevie, for advice, he who may not be the best person from who to ask advice on marriage since he doesn't yet realize that he probably got married to his wife Beth for the wrong reasons. Indeed, Beth, who has lost her sense of identity, is unhappy in their marriage, and contemplates having an affair with someone who provides what she believes is a sympathetic shoulder. Hairdresser and law school student Boogie is the player of the bunch, ... Written by
Strong dialogue and believable characters taking precedence over stupid action and obnoxious caricatures.
Note: This review has been severely chopped to comply with IMDb's word limit. Full review can be found at wiredonmovies.com
"There's not that much of a story, really. What do we do? We drive around. Maybe he's going to get married, maybe not. It's really more about the fact that it's a very honest portrayal of a group...of guys that people relate to on a very personal level."
Kevin Bacon on the "Diner" DVD interview reel
In the opening scene of Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs," a handful of characters debate the true meaning of Madonna's hit song "Like a Virgin." Long before "Reservoir Dogs" (a decade, to be exact), there was Barry Levinson's directorial debut, "Diner," a coming-of-age tale concerning five Baltimore residents in their 20s who try to get past crucial points in their lives. In a similar scene to that in Tarantino's masterpiece, four friends -- played by Steve Guttenberg, Mickey Rourke, Daniel Stern, and Paul Reiser -- argue over which singer produces better make-out music: Mathis or Sinatra? "Presley," says Rourke's character, ending the conversation with blunt confidence. And that's that.
The movie has plentiful rich dialogue, some of it seemingly pointless, most of it subtly touching and meaningful. The film has a lot to say about the difference between friendship and true love. "I love you," one of the characters tells the woman he wants to marry. Fixated on an object behind him, her eyes cold and a grim reflection of deep contemplation, she replies, "You're confusing a friendship with a woman, and love. It's not the same." In a very different sort of way, it tackles the same material as "When Harry Met Sally," but it doesn't stop there.
The film is masterful in its ability to present us with a group of people we sincerely care for, and who all seem very real -- more so than the characters you'll find in most movies. The dialogue was primarily improvised, especially by Paul Reiser, whose debates with fellow pals are the highlights of the film. Even after the truly poignant ending there is a discussion about evolution that plays over the credits. "Did you hear about this evolution stuff?" Reiser asks. He starts to mock the theories which would later become widely considered as truth by scientists, despite lack of actual evidence supporting the theory. Amusing, how the movie has so much to say about so many different things.
"Diner" is a film that connects with us because we can all sympathize with its characters and their inner motivations. Eddie (Guttenberg) is afraid of getting married; Schrezie (Stern) is married and wishes he wasn't; Boogie (Rourke) would like to finally find a girl he could respect; Bill (Timothy Daly) wants to get married to the girl he loves but she doesn't want to. The whole movie appears to be focused on girls, and indeed most of it is, yet there's a lot of other stuff that's even deeper. Fenwick (Bacon) is what Bacon himself described as a "permanently drunk," sick kid who doesn't know what he wants out of life, thrown out of his family and wandering the streets looking for a meaning to his life. He's the character who is so lost he doesn't even seem to care very much about girls.
Prior to "Diner," Levinson was a nobody -- and perhaps that is why his first project is that most in tune with its characters and their natures. The movie was very risky when the studio released it in 1982 -- there was talk of shelving the finished product for fear of losing money. Reluctant, MGM finally released the movie into theaters, but with poor advertising -- it tanked. Yet it received some of the greatest reviews of the year. In an effort to convince MGM, Levinson showed a screening of the movie to critic Pauline Kael, who gave it an exceptional review, as did the majority of critics at that time. On the surface, "Diner" seems rather boring -- it's just a movie about nothing, really, except growing up. Yet it captured the hearts of many, becoming a cult sleeper that still entices new fans to this very day.
It's a film of many integrating mixed genres, each one carefully balanced and perfectly maintained throughout. "Diner" has some of the best dialogue of all time, not to mention a handful of Oscar-worthy performances. This is not Levinson's best but it's one of his most deeply touching projects. It has a lot to say about many things and it actually gets around to addressing them -- which is rare to find in any movie. This is a true gem.
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