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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
Basically the interaction of five guys and one girl during the Christmas season of 1959-1960 in Balitimore, Maryland, "Diner" is somewhat autobiographical of director/writer Barry Levinson, identified as the character Billy (Tim Daly) in the film. Be sure and listen to the dialog spoken over the ending credits. It cleverly encapsulates the entire film. The movie is noteworthy for making stars of six new faces to the cinema public, Steven Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Timothy Daly, and Ellen Barkin. Had it been created before "American Graffiti," it would have been the definitive coming of age flick. Coming nine years later, it pales in the shadow of that seminal work. Still, "Diner" is a worthwhile piece of cinema and is much more cerebral than "American Graffiti."
There are a few time-line problems. I too was finishing high school and preparing for college during the same time interval. Only I was located in rural America and the protagonists of "Diner" lived in an urban setting. Radio was AM and dominated by the "top forty" play list. Seldom were older rock 'n' roll songs played. Naturally there were no oldies stations yet. Teens basked in the audio heaven of the popular tunes of the day. The "Diner" soundtrack appropriately contains such hits of 1959-60 as "Beyond the Sea," "Theme From a Summer Place," and "Goodbye Baby," but also contains songs that were rarely if ever played on AM radio or on diner juke boxes in 1959-60, such as "It's All In The Game," "Don't Be Cruel," and "Fascination." This all makes for one of the best 50's soundtracks ever, but distracts from the credibility of the film setting.
Teens of the period throughout American had a favorite gathering place or rendezvous. For me it was a local diner called "The Hickory House." Sitting in cars, drinking, and shooting the BS was as popular as actually going inside the diner, though that took place too. "Diner" accurately portrays this aspect of teenage gregariousness. The courting rituals and dating challenges are also true to life for the period. A mediocre film, "A Summer Place" was extremely popular with teens of the period, in particular girls, since it was basically a chick flick. By using it as a backdrop to the story, Levinson enhances the scene with the popcorn box and makes it much more meaningful, especially to those who have watched "A Summer Place." Another aspect of reality used by Levinson in a telling way is the concept of male, female relationships at the time. For example, when Timothy Fenwick (Bacon) starts using vulgar language during the car wreck tomfoolery, the other guys point to Beth (Barkin) and indicate by gesture that there is a lady present. Today, female teens readily use vulgar talk as often as males. Changing times.
"Diner" is one of the best of the teen angst films shot during the 70's and 80's and not to be missed. If the viewer lived through the time passage in the movie, it is all that more enjoyable to see.
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