February 27, 2020

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The power of kindness

Diane offers an honest look at life

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/8/2019 (210 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

This small, bleakly beautiful drama is about a woman of a certain age, and many women will immediately recognize the rhythm of her days: the endless to-do lists, the rounds of errands. Diane (Mary Kay Place) drops things off and picks things up. She makes sick visits. She brings casseroles.

It’s not just that American writer-director Kent Jones observes the routines of everyday life with detailed care. He also conveys, with poignancy and power, how these little things add up to a life, a family, a community.

Diane is a rare thing: an unsentimental and honest indie film about the radical power of kindness.

Diane is part of an aging matriarchy of working-class widows and elderly aunts in a wintry rural corner of Massachusetts.

These women keep things going, looking out for each other with practical assistance and emotional support.

Diane also checks in on her grown son, Brian (Jake Lacy from Obvious Child), who’s been in and out of drug rehab, delivering groceries and clean clothes.

IFC FILMS</p><p>Mary Kay Place shines as Diane, giving a quiet, contained performance that still suggests reserves of regret and even rage.</p>

IFC FILMS

Mary Kay Place shines as Diane, giving a quiet, contained performance that still suggests reserves of regret and even rage.

As a narrative this might not sound like much, but it builds to a story of pain, loss and a flinty kind of hope, and it’s grounded in a career performance from Place.

Viewers around Place’s age might remember her from Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. She’s been a hardworking character actor for decades, often playing flawed mothers and quirky friends.

Here she’s at the centre of every scene, but there’s absolutely no showboating.

Place delivers a quiet, contained performance that still suggests reserves of regret and even rage.

Diane is generous to others but hard on herself. There’s a secret in her past that’s hidden in her guilt-ridden dealings with her son and in a swift, sudden argument with a beloved cousin.

Jones isn’t going for some big gotcha moment, though — rather a gradual reveal.

There’s an astonishing scene where Diane sings along, half-drunk, to an old Dylan song on the jukebox. The 20-somethings walking past her in the bar can’t conceive this washed-out lady in the bulky parka was ever young and reckless. The veteran bartender knows better.

IFC FILMS</p>

IFC FILMS

There are a lot of scenes at buffet restaurants or crowded kitchen tables that seem shaggy but are actually well-crafted.

Jones understands how old friends — really old friends, with maybe 50 or 60 years of history — relate to each other. He understands what small talk at the community hall or the beauty salon really says.

The minor roles in Diane aren’t minor, with incredible supporting work from old pros like Andrea Martin, Phyllis Somerville, Joyce Van Patten and Estelle Parsons, who’s in her nineties.

Jones has a background in documentary, and he’s good at kitchen-sink realism. (Actual kitchen sinks, by the way — these women do a lot of cooking.) But the docs he’s worked on (Hitchcock/Truffaut, A Letter to Elia, Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows) are about the art of filmmaking, and he also understands cinematic subtlety.

As the film progresses, it becomes more impressionistic and inward-looking, tracking Diane’s increasing introspection.

A lot of peppy American movies and chipper British flicks reduce their older characters to cutesy cliches, flooding audiences with feel-good sentimentality and fake uplift.

Hope has to work pretty hard to break through in this compassionate but clear-eyed account of late-in-life emotional reckonings, but the uplift is there. And it’s real.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

Read full biography

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