Wednesday, May 16, 2012


There were about five movies that came out in 1982 that I would end up seeing again and again over the next few years, eventually own on LaserDisc, and then DVD, and would continue to revisit multiple times as the years went on. Barry Levinson's Diner was one of them, though you wouldn't think it from the absolutely horrible trailer seen above.

I've already established that I was (and still am) a sucker for movies set in the late 50's and early 60's, so it wasn't really hard for me to like Diner. The thing is, while it's set in 1959, it feels firmly planted in the 1950's, and isn't as...bright as other movies set in the era seemed to be. (The 80's version of the 50's invariably involved a lot of chrome and pink.) It's kind of dark, in a way, both literally and figuratively.

I can understand why the movie was a hard sell at first--there's no real plot to speak of: It takes place in Baltimore the week between Christmas and New Year's, with six friends in their 20's gathered for a friend's New Year's wedding. They hang out a diner a lot. They talk. A few very minor adventures occur. It ends. (There are two great articles that look back on the film's creation, and how hard it was to get it released initially: One is in Vanity Fair, and the other, from the Baltimore Sun kind of piggybacks on the VF article.)

What makes it memorable is the dialogue, and the ensemble cast's perfect chemistry. I'd venture to say all of the guys in it have never been better, before or since. This scene is a good example of that, and contains a bit of dialogue ("You gonna finish that?") that my parents and I would quote for years.

You can see more of the scene, which includes an awesome and completely real spit take, here. (For whatever reason, it's not embeddable.) The scene also highlights Mickey Rourke in a role that just solidified the crush that began when I saw him earlier that year in Body Heat. Bad skin? Greasy hair? Didn't matter. He was hotness.

And while the guys are the center of the movie, Ellen Barkin is terrific and kind of sad in her role as Shrevie's wife, Beth. This is probably the most famous scene she has in the movie, when Shrevie finds out she's been playing his records. (It's too bad I can't find a clip of the follow-up scene--in which Rourke's character, Boogie, shows up at their place right after the fight, and she breaks down crying into his arms--because it's really heartbreaking.)

And here's something amusing: Barry Levinson has said the characters were based on guys he knew in Baltimore, or were at least composites of different guys. So here's a clip from a 1989 news broadcast which features some of the "real Diner guys." Whether they actually are or not is, I guess, up to some debate, (though Levinson does make a brief appearance in the video), but it's worth watching just to hear some genuine Baltimore accents, which, aside from one character ("Bagel"), aren't really on display in the actual movie. It's a great accent; kind of sounds like a Philly accent with a bit of a Southern twang.

As for where my parents and I saw the movie: It was a Sunday, and we saw it at the Alexandria out on Geary. It was in the main theater, not one of the tiny balcony screens, because if it had been in one of those, we would have gone somewhere else. Sadly, that theater is still sitting out there on Geary, awaiting some kind of renovation plan that never seems to happen.

Finally, here are two things I did not know: There was a TV pilot based on the movie, shot in 1983, but I don't think it ever aired. Michael Madsen was cast in Mickey Rourke's role, James Spader in Kevin Bacon's, and Paul Reiser was the only one who reprised his role. (Of course.)

And there's a Broadway musical in the works, with songs by Sheryl Crow, and it's scheduled to have previews in San Francisco in October, which, well...if you don't have dreams, you got nightmares.

1 comment:

  1. If you dig around it is possible to get a DVD of the TV pilot. It's a shame they didn't pick it up back in '83 because the pilot was good. I guess they felt the premise would not play well after a few episodes.