Kevin Smith probably owes much of his career to Barry Levinson’s ‘Diner.’ This nostalgic film mostly comprised of vignettes of men hanging out made it alright to let candid conversation dominate a story. Where would ‘Clerks’ be without it?
In 1959 Baltimore, a group of friends regularly convene in a diner to hang out. Much of their interaction involves their sexual misadventures the night before, sports, gambling and all sorts of other ‘guy stuff.’
‘Boogie’ (Mickey Rourke) is in debt to the wrong people thanks to some bad gambling tips, while ‘Fen’ (Kevin Bacon) has a lot of resentment toward his privileged family and upbringing. ‘Shrevie’ (Daniel Stern) is the married one, but is he happy? Meanwhile, Eddie (Steve Guttenberg) is about to get married and wants his closest buddy from the group, Billy (Tim Daly) to be his best man.
Paul Reiser, Ellen Barken and a host of other soon-to-be-known actors are also floating around in this coming-of-age story.
These friends each have their own conflicts and goals which they have to attend to but they all know that they have each other to count on.
There is a very loose feel to the narrative because it is unhurried and there are some very conversational stretches. Most stories unfold rapidly and only have characters reveal facts to advance the plot as quickly and as naturally as possible. ‘Diner’ is content to let the characters shoot the breeze at times (thought not quite as often as you might think). This was rather revolutionary at the time and has since become commonplace. This film broke down that barrier and made it okay.
Also appreciated is the fact that most of the pertinent action happens outside of the diner. The setting isn’t overly restricted as the eatery is more of a check-in point. 1950’s Baltimore is really explored through the perspective of young men with many commonalities but also some disparate situations.
At their cores, these guys are all about impressing women. In fact, this film may have been the cinematic premiere of the ‘popcorn trick.’ If you don’t know, you’ll see. Sometimes the happenings are funny, sometimes they’re sad, but they always come across as honest which is no surprise given the semi-autobiographical origins.
Special features include: a documentary, an introduction, the cast and crew, a trailer, and a list of a few films that are distinctly Baltimore.
Though many films fail to recapture the magic of a given time and place, ‘Diner’ actually succeeds wildly. It doesn’t overreach it’s grasp and made stars of most of the main cast. Some of their careers fizzled out, but some continued to thrive and this film was important in many respects.
Rated R 110 minutes 1982