Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Today's Viewing & Review: Diner


The world is a changed place, not only from 1959 Baltimore where this is set but also from 1982 when it was made. Diner occupies a particular strand of (usually male-dominated) films about the last flush of youth before an enveloping of adulthood and the responsibilities which come with that. It sits in esteemed company alongside stuff like Dazed & Confused, American Pie and, to some extent, Swingers.

It’s a film chiefly about banter. Six early-20s (as best I can tell) guys in various stages of college meet-up to trade quips and place spurious conquest-based wagers. It’s odd seeing the old pre-mangled Mickey Rourke and it’s easy to forget how effortlessly charming he was. A fact made all the more apparent when placed alongside a cast of ‘oh, I’d completely forgotten all about thems’ (Daniel Stern! Paul Reiser! Steve Guttenberg!) and Kevin Bacon. The problem with such a banter-based reliance is that the banter has to zing – and this rarely does. The script’s just not funny enough and gets mired in nostalgia-invoking pop culture referencing that must have already seemed like a lifetime ago by the time the film was made. When the banter works, such as in the aftermath of Mickey Rourke’s attempt to perform the popcorn trick (in the film’s most famous scene), it really is quite good. Perhaps a lot of the problem lies with me and my cynical modern eyes. Even the more ribald repartee appears tame and sweet-natured. Not to say this is how I’d prefer it but it’s hard to imagine the aforementioned snack-based faux pas passing with such little incident (and bodily fluid) in a modern comedy.

The film’s biggest problem is that it resides in the most awkward of sub-genres; the comedy drama. It’s lacking in sufficient dramatic weight and the characters are so loosely sketched that it all appears of such little consequence. Add that to the fact it’s not funny enough to be an all-out comedy and it’s stuck in this uncomfortable middle ground. This is particularly exemplified by the ending which performs an about-face tonal shift that jars no end. I just found it a totally unmemorable experience, unworthy of the near-classic status that seems to have attached itself to it.

It’s clear to see the film’s legacy though. In many ways it was ahead of its time. If it looks at all derivative, it’s because its influence is writ large in films featuring a young, all-male cast – although stopping well short of developing into a bromance. The beats it hits and the rhythm of some of the verbal sparring is really noticeable in stuff like Swingers.

That’s the film’s greatest achievement; the other, better works it has inspired.


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