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This pilot for the TV version of the critically acclaimed feature Diner (1982) focused on the complaints of the wives, Elyse and Beth, that their husbands were spending too much time hanging at the diner with their friends.
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
"Diner" is a fun-filled, perfectly inspired comedy/drama, which is talented director Barry Levinson's first effort. Needless to say, there's no strong plot structure, but when you have solid, memorable characters like these, that's not necessary. Almost every one of these characters are memorable in their own ways. Nobody "steals the show."
The cast is highly spirited, as I sensed great joy in their performances. The chemistry between the characters is very genuine, and not surprisingly Barry Levinson made sure the actors got well-acquainted with each other before shooting.
I can tell Levinson based many of these scenarios on real-life situations. Scenes like these cannot be developed in the mind of some phony Hollywood hack screenwriter. The nostalgia practically bleeds out the screen, in his solid attention to detail. And that's one of the reasons why this film works. I can actually imagine Levinson sitting back and watching the film with a big smile, chuckling intermittently as he reminisces back to moments from his adolescence. When a director is joyful about his work, that joy transfers to his audience. One of the scenes in which that joy is most evident is when Daniel Stern's character throws a fit about his girlfriend, Ellen Barkin, wrongly categorizing his records and never asking him "what's on the flip side?" Levinson obviously has a passion for the music of his time, and rightfully so, because a lot of great music comes from the 50's. And lucky for me, the film's soundtrack is filled with many of those great tunes.
There are many memorable moments and lines of dialogue. The football quiz is definitely something to be remembered. But my favorite is the famous "roast beef sandwich" argument. Paul Reiser asks Steve Guttenberg if that's a roast beef sandwich he's eating, and Guttenberg can sense he wants a bite from the sandwich, so he yells out, "Just say it! 'I want the roast beef sandwich!'" It's a brilliant, "Seinfeld"-type scene which revolves around a banal subject, but you can't help but be delightfully amused, because let's fact it--the things we relate most to are the simple things in life. Movies about politics can be interesting, but what if you're not a politician or someone who doesn't give a damn about politics? Eating is someone everyone can relate to. Friendship is something everything can relate to. And male bonding is something all men can relate to.
If "Waiting to Exhale" best demonstrates the strength of female bonding, I feel this film best demonstrates the strength of male bonding. I used to feel that women had a stronger bond, since they're more affectionate and in touch with their feelings. But when jealousy enters the equation, even the most long-term friendship between two women can be butchered. I've actually talked to several women who feel more comfortable with male friends, and don't very much trust other women. However, guys stick together. We may badmouth each other left and right and bust each other's chops, but the bond remains the same. Some females may interpret this is as a misogynistic film, because other than Ellen Barkin's character, there are no major or supporting female characters. And Steve Guttenberg's would-be wife is never revealed--at least her face is never shown. But this is simply to stress the theme of male bonding; not to show that women aren't important.
"Diner" is a film for those who enjoy funny, moving, character-driven nostalgia films with fine actors. Hell, even Mickey Rourke, who I'm not a big fan of, gives a fine three-dimensional performance. But everyone in the cast is worth praising in equal doses: Daniel Stern, Paul Reiser (despite his brief screen time), Kevin Bacon, Steve Guttenberg, Tim Daly, Ellen Barkin.
My score: 8 (out of 10)
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