By Richard Ades
The title character in Diane is selfless to a fault. Played by a stalwart Mary Kay Place, she ignores her own needs while looking after her addicted son, visiting ailing friends and volunteering in a soup kitchen. In return for these efforts, she’s rewarded with resentment, long-held grudges and only an occasional “thank you.”
A rough parallel can be drawn between Diane and Place herself, who has rarely received much attention despite the many years she’s spent both in front of and behind the camera. Unlike Diane, though, Place has finally been rewarded. Portraying the long-suffering Diane allows her to reveal her talent for inhabiting a struggling character without indulging in excessive histrionics.
Written and directed by Kent Jones, the film follows Diane as she drives along rural Massachusetts roads from one disappointing encounter to another.
The most painful moments involve son Brian (Jake Lacy), who insists he’s kicked his drug habit though it’s all too clear he hasn’t. “Can’t you leave me be?” he begs. Maybe it would be better for him if she did, as her attempts to help by supplying him with food and clean clothes only turn her into an enabler. But ignoring someone in need is simply not in her nature.
Also painful is her relationship with her cancer-stricken cousin, Donna (Deirdre O’Connell), who harbors a resentment over a long-ago indiscretion. Other people in Diane’s life are more appreciative, including best friend Bobbie (Andrea Martin). Maybe Diane would benefit from their support and advice if she weren’t so busy beating herself up over what she sees as her own failings.
Jones’s low-key film boasts the participation of several skilled actors, including Estelle Parsons and other veterans who are less recognizable. The result is a convincing slice of rustic New England life. After it was over, though, I couldn’t help wishing it had been more.
People struggle, people disappoint each other, people die. In the process, neither Diane nor anybody else seems to learn anything. Unfortunately, the same goes for the viewer, unless you count the realization that Mary Kay Place is a very fine actor.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Local showings: Diane (rated R) opens April 5 at the Gateway Film Center in Columbus.