Diner (1982)
Diner (1982)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Release Date: May 21st, 1982 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Barry Levinson Actors: Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Timothy Daly, Ellen Barkin, Paul Reiser, Kathryn Dowling, Kelle Kipp, Claudia Cron




t’s Christmas night in Baltimore, 1959, when Modell (Paul Reiser) arrives at a party in search of pal Boogie (Mickey Rourke), who soon retrieves troublemaker Timothy (Kevin Bacon) – who passes the time breaking windows in the venue’s basement. When they leave shortly thereafter in separate vehicles, additional friends Shrevie (Daniel Stern) and Beth (Ellen Barkin), pulling up next to Modell, find Timothy’s convertible overturned and his face drenched in blood. But it’s merely one of many routine pranks: the car was flipped intentionally and the blood is ketchup. The momentary shock is soon replaced by laughs and a customary gathering, meeting up with another regular group member, Eddie (Steve Guttenberg), at the local diner, where they all eat, chat, and poke fun at one another.

With a hip soundtrack of recognizable tunes narrating the casual, natural palling around and random conversations about anything that pops into their heads, “Diner” is something of an update to “American Graffiti,” capturing a mindset and the behaviors of the youth of a specific era. They’re on the cusp of adulthood, but they cling to the happy-go-lucky, responsibility-free lifestyles of adolescents, trying desperately to avoid all things serious or mature. A marriage is on the horizon for Eddie (curiously, the soon-to-be bride is never shown), whose best man Billy (Tim Daly) tries to wrangle any last-minute jitters or hasty grasps for freedom, but all of these youngsters will have some big decisions to make about colleges, careers, and significant others before the holidays are through.

“Your thing just got into a box of popcorn?” A few big laughs intermingle with smaller chunks of humor, but it’s the nearly nonstop, spontaneous, organic design of the dialogue that remains most memorable. Writer/director Barry Levinson (assembling something of an autobiographical yarn) has assembled a stellar cast of talent, demonstrating a fitting chemistry, capable of pulling off numerous scenes composed of little more than improvisational hanging out, making small talk (often veering into sexual topics), and betting on various exploits. The actual plot is often delayed or pushed aside for the sake of building characters, enabling the audience to get a more intimate sense of their inner turmoil and consternating interactions. Gambling becomes one of the conflicts for Boogie, while the diminished pursuit of sex becomes a burden for Shrevie (as well as his increasing inability to speak to his wife), and an unplanned pregnancy weighs on Billy; these are grounded, modest woes, but they possess a certain heightened realism thanks to the time spent detailing the leads.

“Do you ever get the feeling there’s something going on that we don’t know about?” As the assortment of friends strive to figure out the next chapters of their lives, embarking upon a string of frivolous shenanigans, the picture resembles more of an observation (like slice-of-life vignettes) than a distinct piece of fictional storytelling. It’s an ephemeral period to ponder love, regret, potential, mistakes, neglect, identity, lessons to be learned (and hopeful reconciliations), and friendships in a transitionary time between juvenile recklessness and adult sophistication (including graduating from nicknames) – if such a phase can be so precisely pinned down. The film’s strength is in the casting and script, but, like any work focusing on a particular zeitgeist, its resonance will fluctuate highly depending on the viewer. Unfortunately, the humor (some of it steeped in nostalgia and sentimentality), even during the more notorious sequences, is never strong enough to transcend the limitations of its minimal scope and setting and lack of a traditional narrative.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10