Sunday, August 16, 2009
By Eric Jessen 8/15/09
Diner is a lukewarm, humdrum “Happy Days” retread of 1950's nostalgia (a twinkle in the eye, tilted head smile and a depressing sigh included) with cute little bits of the obligatory coffee talk - sports and music, “Sinatra or Mathis?” over a burger and fries and your hot date over apple pie - generic (the eventual sitcom pilot quality) plot devices and reminiscing good old fashioned wholesome guy love.
Diner is set in 1959 Baltimore, where five high school buddies, now in their early twenties, still meet at their favorite diner, sit at their favorite table and eat their favorite dish to forget women, money and adulthood. They bicker and finish each other's thoughts like old married couples, talking about music, movies, and the Colts, recalling the prom and past girlfriends. They cling to their boyishness and boo-hoo their evolving relationships. All five have “growing pains.” Eddie (Steve Guttenberg) is on the verge of marriage but getting cold feet. “Shrevie” (Daniel Stern) is already in the sexless arguing stage of marriage, fighting about how to organize his record collection with his wife (Ellen Barkin). “Boogie,” played with a suave desperation by Mickey Rourke is a hair dresser by day, law student by night and knee-deep in gambling debts. Fenwick, played with inebriated tears of despair by Kevin Bacon, is a whiny failure who “rejected the family business” and is now living on his parents allowance. And Billy, played with muted deadpan personality by Timothy Daly, has impregnated a girl he loves but who doesn't love him.
But as the boys say, “At least we have the diner.” It's their safe haven from the frightening outside world (though we see it as basically harmless), and their uncertain futures. They cherish relaxed guy love at the diner and fear conversations with their wives. They cherish Sweet Smell of Success and fear The Seventh Seal.
Barry Levinson in his directing debut immediately regresses to childhood memory-schmaltz, drifting into his adolescence of growing up in Baltimore, playing sophomoric pranks and watching game shows on a black and white TV. Although Levinson captures the sadness of fading teenage innocence - becoming an adult and feeling uncomfortable and inept cruising for girls or married and bored - behind an uninspired story, lacking snap, crackle or pop, the genuinely amusing dialogue falls flat in the lurking mist of homesick melancholy.