Director Kent Jones shot Diane in a documentary style, the camera seeming to be eavesdropping on conversations. Shots surely meant to intrigue the audience only made for uncomfortable scenes that made viewers uneasy. Some scenes were shot as if it was a thriller where the viewer was first POV in the driver's seat. This could have been Jones' intention- to make viewers of Diane uneasy until the climax of the film, but sadly, a climax never came.
Audiences follow Diane through her daily life and struggles, including her drug-addicted son, the death of friends and family, and Diane's guilt. Through the whole movie we can tell that something that happened in the past has been weighing on Diane for years. Though we found out what did happen in "the cape" many years prior, audiences were led to believe that there was more to the secret, that something else happened in the cape.
The entire movie I found myself waiting for a flashback to the cape, waiting to find out a the true secret, the secret that was weighing down on Diane, the secret that forced Diane to live her entire life serving others. It turned out that the secret I was waiting for would never come, in fact the only secret was revealed within the first few scenes of the film.
While the plot wasn't strong, Mary Kay Place's portrayment of Diane was excellent. Never did I see a break in character, and the way Place chose to characterize Diane was intriguing and fascinating. She showed the audience many sides of Diane, her overwhelmed with guilt, her drunk dancing in a bar, and her interacting with her friends.
Overall while the plot of Diane was missing something, performances by actors such as Mary Kay Place, Jake Lacey and Andrea Martin improved the otherwise event less plot.
I've been a fan of Mary Kay Place ever since her breakthrough performance as Loretta Haggers on the 70s Norman Lear classic, MARY HARTMAN. She's been a bright-spirited American treasure ever since, but always in supporting roles. Now, all this time later, she finally gets the leading role of her career, and it seems all those decades toiling away on the sidelines has given her the right edge to tap into the ferocity this great role deserves. DIANE, the narrative feature debut of New York Film Festival Director and documentarian Kent Jones (HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT), has its many flaws, but as a showcase for Place, it's unmissable.
Diane, a widow in rural Massachusetts, spends all of her time in service to others. She visits her dying cousin (Deirdre O'Connell ) in the hospital, delivers casseroles to sick friends, ladles mac and cheese to the homeless at the local soup kitchen, and most importantly bursts in on her drug-addicted son Brian (Jake Lacy) in one gut-wrenching attempt after another to get him back into rehab. We've all seen this character before, the pillar of the community who never takes time for herself, but Place makes her so real, so exhausted, and yet, thoroughly relatable.
Jones employs a basic, straightforward approach to his filmmaking, imbuing his talky scenes with a lived-in aesthetic and an eavesdropping, docu-style camera. Occasionally, he'll punctuate acts with shots of his wintry town from behind the wheel of a car, establishing a slow, laconic rhythm to the film. Rarely stopping at Diane's own house, the film consists of a repeated series of visits to friends and family, focusing on the building resentments, the aching passage of time, and a lot of deaths. Here and there, Diane lunches with her friend Bobbie (the great Andrea Martin), and their complaint sessions have such a raw intensity. Bobbie may be clueless as she complains about having to host a family Christmas while sitting across from a friend who lives alone and is worried sick that he son could die at any minute, but their friendship clearly has room for the occasional tone deaf pronouncements.
The main thrust of the story centers on her relationship with her son. You get the sense there's an unspoken past which informs Diane's intensity, and once revealed, you come to understand the repetitive circle of her life. Lacy matches Place with a wildly unpredictable performance filled with manipulative guilt trips and viciousness. Late in the second act, his character takes an odd turn, one I didn't see coming and am not sure is successfully rendered, but it all leads to an incredible third act scene between the two where in one line, he sums up their complicated relationship so perfectly. Jones knows these people and allows their back stories to unfold with minimal exposition.
Sounds better than a 3 Star review, you say? Well, unfortunately, Jones makes some choices late into the film which derailed things for me. Using slow motion techniques, dream sequences, and an almost incomprehensible final scene don't feel supported by his otherwise simple filmmaking style. As they play out, these scenes feel more confusing than anything else. Had he shot the whole film with a more sweeping fashion, he may have succeeded with these scenes. By the end, I truly had no idea what I had just seen. Was the entire film a memory piece told by the person we see at the end? Did we witness a dream or a flashback? The passage of time seems clumsy and the POV shots feel overused.
These choices felt ill-judged after witnessing the beautifully realized story which comes before. Still, Place makes it worth the somewhat troubled journey. A scene in which she gets drunk and dances by herself in a bar, or one in which she berates another soup kitchen volunteer simply blazed across the screen. Jones surrounds Place with a gallery of women who have had long, unheralded careers. Estelle Parsons movingly embodies the role of Diane's quietly suffering aunt. Joyce Van Patten and Glynnis O'Connor, two welcome blasts from the past, feel just right as Diane's circle of friends. Jones seems to be celebrating his own upbringing as well as his love for actors he grew up loving. As a first feature, he has done a highly commendable job. It's unfussy and doesn't mark him so much as a visual master as someone who can create credible environments from which his actors can shine. Eventually he may discover how to shoot some of his more stylistically complex ideas, but until then, his humanistic voice as is has already made its mark by giving us Place at her best.
Overall, Diane is an excellent, brilliant masterpiece by Kent Jones. Mark Kay Place is genius in her performance to portray such a brilliant, well-written character. Diane may not be appealing to others, but it's good. And vibrant.