Written and directed by Kent Jones
Starring Mary Kay Place, Jake Lacy and Andrea Martin
Classification N/A; 95 minutes
“She thought she had terrible sins to make up for. What, exactly, I can’t say.” So says a character late in Kent Jones’s new film Diane, underlining the drama’s themes in bold yellow. I like to think that Jones, a respected documentarian (Hitchcock/Truffaut) and director of the New York Film Festival, was throwing his audience the tiniest of bones here. Or maybe he felt obliged to follow his inner film-fest-programmer voice requesting just a little bit more thudding clarity, please and thanks. However that stray line of blunt dialogue manifested itself, it is one of only a handful of false moves in Diane, which is otherwise a gem of restraint and patience.
For much of the film’s brisk running time, the sixtysomething title character (Mary Kay Place) runs from one act of self-sacrifice to another in a perpetually grey rural Massachusetts. Here’s Diane serving in a soup kitchen. There’s Diane checking up on her son (Jake Lacy), a drug addict who has no time to entertain his mother’s dreams of rehab. And then it’s off to the hospital, where Diane visits her ill cousin (Deirdre O’Connell) with such a dedicated fervor that, at one point, it is the cancer patient who starts to question how her healthy visitor is holding up. Diane is living a life dedicated to others, and naturally there’s a reason why she’s reluctant to pause, as doing so would force her to examine her reasons as to why.
It would be so easy for Jones’s film to slide into melodrama here, but he avoids narrative shortcuts at almost every turn. We get crumbs of Diane’s past throughout, and it doesn’t matter whether they form a tidy trail or not. The reason Diane (the film) exists is not to propose and then solve a mystery, but to engage with Diane (the person).
Place, a performer who will look vaguely familiar to most (especially fans of Being John Malkovich and Netflix’s Lady Dynamite), has seemingly been waiting her entire career for such a showcase, and she does the absolute most with what Jones affords her. Diane (again, the person) feels so fully formed in her mannerisms, in her eventual rage and despair, that you’d mistake her for your own mother, or sister, or dear friend. While the film is less successful with populating the people who fill out Diane’s life - Lacy and O’Connell’s characters are thinly conceived, while Andrea Martin’s best friend seems pasted from an earlier and shakier draft of the screenplay - there is an easy pleasure in watching every performer sink into Jones’s world with ease.
“She apologized for eating, for putting one foot in front of the other, for breathing up too much air in the room,” says soup-kitchen patron Tom (Charles Weldon), the same character who uttered the earlier line about making up for past “sins.” Jones seems to be apologizing himself here, perhaps for spelling things out so directly. But there’s no need. Creating Diane (in all its forms) is an impressive feat that requires no forgiveness.
Diane opens April 26 in Toronto