Written and Directed by Kent Jones.
Starring Mary Kay Place, Jake Lacy, Estelle Parsons, Glynnis O’Connor, Andrea Martin, Deirdre O’Connell, Phyllis Somerville, Joyce Van Patten, Danielle Ferland, Ray Iannicelli, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Charles Weldon, Marcia Haufrecht, Barbara Andres, Paul McIsaac, and Mary Fuller.
Diane fills her days helping others and desperately attempting to bond with her drug-addicted son. As these pieces of her existence begin to fade, she finds herself confronting memories she’d sooner forget than face.
Generally, whenever there is a role calling for a drug addict it makes sense to put as much of a spotlight on that character/actor as much as possible. It’s often the showiest performance and one that easily invites emotional investment while typically functioning as engaging. The addict in this story is Brian (played by Jake Lacy who delivers the best performance of his career so far by a long shot, even when the material has him playing up certain scenarios a bit too over-the-top), but Diane is a film about, well, his mother Diane.
Mary Kay Place is given a character with such depth that it stands on its own not just as a gracious opportunity for an aged actor, but as material any performer would rightfully sink their teeth into. Diane leads a busy life even if it never really seems like she’s doing anything important; she routinely visits her life-threateningly ill cousin Donna (Deirdre O’Connell) in the hospital, she volunteers at a food shelter to feed the homeless, and she checks up on her son Brian who seems to be giving back into the temptation of hard drugs after seemingly convincingly swearing them off. Naturally, she persists pestering Brian to check himself into rehab day after day even if the results of her badgering become more hurtful (in a fit of rage Brian calls his own mother a cunt, making for a painful and awkward air of silence that speaks volumes regarding how fractured the relationship has become).
Diane also surrounds herself with various relatives and friends (the film boasts a strong array of character actors that are a joy to see receive some noteworthy work considering older actors are often relegated to smaller parts), and as to be expected they frequently tell her that for as much as she is concerned and worries about Brian, it does no good and that is up to him to shake off the demon that has gotten a hold of him. All of this creates a thought-provoking juxtaposition between the elderly whose bodies are failing them and relatively healthy young men (in this case, Brian) that essentially choose to throw life away.
Written and directed by Kent Jones (the well-known documentary filmmaker behind works such as Hitchcock/Truffaut making his narrative feature debut here), Diane examines not only how a loved one’s self-destructive addiction can affect an unconditionally loving mother, but finds even more time to reflect on the titular character’s past and perceived mistakes. It also takes the fact that time is not on the side of these older women and uses that to the narrative’s advantage, whether it be from bringing up old wounds or depicting the mortality of human beings. Brian’s selfish behavior may drive Diane crazy (Mary Kay Place is incredible in the role, capable of going from being the life of the party to unable to look someone in the eyes when replying to a question about how her son is doing) causing her to lash out at those that don’t deserve it, but it’s also a footnote in this vast exploration of her life.
There’s a scene in the movie early on depicting a group of these old ladies around the kitchen table at some get together talking amongst themselves about the past and present, and at the moment it sort of feels its only purpose is to slip viewers just a little bit of each character’s individual personality. Alas, Kent Jones is also not afraid to take the story to some abstract and artistic places, notably playing around with passages of time. Without spoiling much, let’s just say that this kitchen table would be much less populated by the end of the movie, subsequently gifting those images of the women chatting a sense of poignancy. Diane is not only losing her son mentally and emotionally from drugs, but also losing the lives of those supporting her that she also cherishes.
With that said, the third act is not necessarily full of creative decisions that always pay off or feel rewarding. Simply put, the narrative does something with the character of Brian that does not feel earned, also making some of Jake Lacy’s acting during a few scenes off key. It’s almost as if even he wasn’t sold on the trajectory of the character. Unexpectedly, toying around with time and giving the film sizable shifts forward robs certain segments of their drama. One character dies and is given so little acknowledgment that it feels borderline insulting to the character and also incredibly pointless to the viewer to attempt mustering up care to give. At least the film always has Mary Kay Place to fall back on, as she really comes to terms with her past during the final 30 minutes, usually in the form of poetry but sometimes direct confrontation. The poems themselves are also worth pausing the movie to make sure they can be read in their entirety, as they provide insight to the massive weight of guilt bringing down Diane, which is unfortunate considering she’s clearly a good person that is too hard on herself for one heavy mistake.
Even if the last third feels like a completely different movie from everything that came before (a more experimental, less focused and less accomplished one at that), Diane never loses sight of probing the mind of this mother. Her every action is easy to empathize with and Mary Kay Place turns in a terrific nuanced and layered performance. Above all else, it is certainly a reminder that no one lives forever and that we have to make peace with our loved ones while we have the time.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com