“Diane, written and directed by Kent Jones, is a tender, wrenching, and beautifully made movie, and part of what’s revelatory about it is that it’s a story of boomers who are confronting the ravages of old age (disease and death, the waning of dreams), yet they’re doing it with a stubborn echo of the hopes and desires they had when they were younger. They’re getting on, but the movie is keenly aware, in a way that movies almost never are, that they remain every inch who they were. The past hangs over Diane not just as burden or nostalgia (though it can be that, too) but as an enthralling and entangling reminder of life’s mystery.
The title character is a widow, played by the 70-year-old Mary Kay Place (I’ll See You in My Dreams), who lives in rural Massachusetts, where she has spent the better part of her life. Her neighbors include friends and relatives who go back with her for decades; they’re a time-worn community. Yet everyone seems separate, somehow. Diane’s days are filled with encounters—she has lunches with her good friend, Bobbie (Andrea Martin), at the local buffet, a place where they both agree that the food is terrible, and she plays gin rummy with her cousin, Donna (Deirdre O’Connell), who’s in the hospital fighting a losing battle with cervical cancer.
She also spends a great deal of time—too much of it—looking after her son, Brian (Jake Lacy; Carol, Obvious Child), who’s around 30 and has made a mess of his life. He has no job, his house is a dirty wreck, and he’s an addict, struggling with the lies that mask his apparently losing battle with recovery. Brian, it’s implied, has been Diane’s ne’er-do-well albatross for years, and their fraught relationship is starting to drag her down, but the interplay between these two, like everything else in the film, is ferociously present tense. Jones’ dialogue is layered with hints of what happened in the past, but you never catch him showing his hand in an expository way. The scenes percolate with inner life, creating the sense that we’re eavesdropping.
Diane is anecdotal in form, but it’s a true journey, all built around Mary Kay Place’s remarkable performance. Her Diane is a churchgoer, with an ingrained belief that it’s her job to take care of others; she delivers casseroles to friends and serves food at a homeless shelter. But she does it with a very old school kind of tough love. She doesn’t hesitate to call Brian out on his chicanery, and though she’s surrounded by a circle of supportive women, she has a way of lashing out at their weak spots. Beneath her becalmed surface, Diane is haunted, carrying shadows from her past, and that’s the puzzle we put together as we watch the movie—the story of her own addiction and selfish passion, which has guided the karma of her life in ways she never expected, leading to the moment of invisible reckoning she’s at now.
There’s a mournfulness to Diane, but the movie is never sodden—it’s intensely enjoyable and alive. And the film’s ending is majestic. It’s a vision of turmoil and peace and mystery and memory, along with something that hasn’t always accompanied this generation’s journey into old age: a glimpse of God.” (Owen Gleiberman, Variety)
“This is a movie that notices things and people that we are trained to ignore, and you are not likely to forget it.” (Dan Callahan, TheWrap)
“It’s a pinhole portrait of life on Earth; a non-judgmental story about trying to reconcile meaning with meaningless before the well runs dry and it rains again.” (David Ehrlich, IndieWire)