Sunday, May 2, 2010

All Good Things Must Come to an End

Film: Diner
Format: DVD from personal collection on big ol’ television.

There are movies that define a generation. Movies like Star Wars, for instance, are defining of the late 1970s. It’s impossible for me to think of the 1970s, particularly the year after the film came out without immediately referencing that film. More to the point, some films become the definition of a particular year or set of years. It’s difficult to think of 1962 (impossible for me since that’s several years before I was born) without American Graffiti being a part of the mix. That year is immortalized in that film.

The heart of the Ike years, 1959, is most indelibly represented on film in the movie Diner. Again, before my time. However, if you listen to people talk about the simpler time of the ‘50s, you’ll usually hear that things were a lot better back then. People were respectful and the world wasn’t so crazy. Diner makes something of a different case. There’s not a lot of innocence here, although the pranks pulled and the hijinks gotten up to are perhaps tame by current standards.

One of the selling points of a movie like Diner is the cast because the cast is as good as it gets. The film centers on a Baltimore diner that is also the center of the world of a group of friends. This group includes Eddie Simmons (Steve Guttenberg), who is allegedly getting married on New Year’s Eve. He’s not sure he wants to, and he’s seriously hedging his bets on the marriage thing. His fiancée needs to pass a test on her knowledge of the Baltimore Colts.

Part of his reticence comes from the marriage of his friend “Shrevie” Schreiber (Daniel Stern), who is married to Beth (Ellen Barkin). When asked about whether he likes his marriage, he can’t answer. He clearly loves Beth, but says that now that they are married, and no longer have to discuss sex or the wedding plans, they have nothing to talk about.

Also hanging around the diner are “Boogie” Sheftell (Mickey Rourke), who has a serious gambling problem and takes ridiculous bets to cover his other ridiculous losing bets as well as an insatiable appetite for the ladies; Fenwick (Kevin Bacon), who drifts around despite his obvious intelligence; Billy Howard (Tim Daly), who has opted for graduate school and a degree in business despite his pregnant girlfriend; and Modell (Paul Reiser), the group’s doubting Thomas.

The six, all young and dependent on each other for their mutual society and company and sanity, spend as much time as they can in the local diner making fun of each other, cracking jokes, and avoiding the necessity of really growing up.

That’s really what this film is—it’s a bildungsroman on a grand scale, covering the lives of half a dozen young men at a critical time in their own lives and a critical time in the life of the world. The year was the height of the Cold War, of course, although none of this figures in Diner, because this isn’t a movie about world shaking events—it’s about nothing more than becoming an adult.

Change is inevitable, and because of it, difficult. When we find a place in our life that is comfortable, we want things to stay the way they are, but they never can. There’s no doubt that I would love to return in my own life to an easier time without mortgage payments, car payments, and a job that frequently takes up parts of my weekends. But that’s not reality, and eventually, we have to grow up and move on.

“…you always have the guys at the diner,” Eddie says. But it isn’t true. It can’t be. And that’s the point.

Why to watch Diner: A remarkable cast in its prime and a story anyone older than 21 can buy into.
Why not to watch: What happened to Steve Guttenberg and Mickey Rourke, and to some extent Daniel Stern, after this film.

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