📺 Diner (1982) | MGM

Watched Diner (1982) from MGM
Directed by Barry Levinson. With Steve Guttenberg, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Daniel Stern. A group of college-age buddies struggle with their imminent passage into adulthood in 1959 Baltimore.

I could definitely go for the rest of my life not watching this again. Having spent some significant time in diners in Baltimore myself, I really was hoping for more. I can only think that some significant nostalgia was at play for how well this film did in the early 80’s, but it is totally lost on me watching it in 2019. Of course there is more time now between the film’s release and my writing than that of the 23 years between the release and the setting depicted.

This was an incredibly cast ensemble piece with some excellent actors and Ellen Chenoweth certainly didn’t disappoint her well-established reputation. The writing was generally sharp from a character perspective and occasionally funny, though not as on point given the comedic talents of several of the cast. The directing even kept things moving along and brought out the chemistry between the friends. Sadly, it was really a lack of any serious plot which kept the whole piece from gel-ing into something significant.

Having spent several years living in Baltimore, I was surprised that the city didn’t play a more central and recognizable part. The city in the late 50’s would have likely been its heyday, but it looked more like the downtrodden version of itself in the 80’s instead. Local boy Michael Tucker was the only cast member to have a solid Maryland accent which seemed painfully missing to me, though I did appreciate the subtle portrayal of Baltimore and even Jewish culture in the late 50’s in a minor studio feature film.

To me this played like Levinson attempting his personal version of American Graffiti or The Godfather within his own milieu while also prefacing the coming age of independent films of the 1990’s.

I found it curious to see Bacon and Rourke playing roles opposite to the way I would likely have cast them given what I know about the arc of their careers. I wonder what would have happened had they switched at this point in their careers?

There were some quirky references to Cuba that seemed off given that I think Castro already had control by late ’59 when the film was set, so I’m not sure what happened to the plot here.

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