Drama, not rated, The Screen, 3.5 chiles
Diane is like a brooch discovered in an attic trunk. It’s dusty and a little old-fashioned, but it gives off a glow. At its center is Mary Kay Place in a career performance as the title character, a widow growing old in the small western Massachusetts town where she’s lived most of her life.
These days, a lot of that life is spent looking after others. She dishes out hot meals at a local soup kitchen; she plays cards and keeps vigil at the hospital bedside of her dying cousin, Donna (Deirdre O’Connell); she has lunch and laughs with her best friend Bobbie (Andrea Martin) at a diner; she gets together with old friends and family, helping out wherever she can, seldom giving much thought to herself, and carrying the burden of long-ago secrets.
Her heaviest burden is her loutish, drug-addicted son Brian ( Jake Lacy, Carol). Brian’s life is in shambles, his apartment is in squalor, he’s been through rehab programs and slid right back into the groggy grip of heroin, and he tells lies with a challenging, bald-faced plaintiveness that demands, “Why don’t you trust me?” It’s hard to imagine a worse fate for a beloved offspring, but writer-director Kent Jones comes up with something close.
When Brian disappears, we’re ready to let him go, but Diane is not. Distraught, she goes to a bar where she apparently spent some time in her younger days, and as she feeds the jukebox and sways alone to the music, you see the years melt away and you get a remarkable glimpse of the trajectory of a life filled with service and disappointment, love and hopes, and deceit and regret.
Jones, here making his feature film debut, is a critic, New York Film Festival programmer, and documentarian (Hitchcock/Truffaut): His understanding of the film medium is apparent in every frame. The subject matter is a bit of a downer, as the story advances through the years and the characters grow even older and drop away, but Jones never lets it sag. He’s surrounded Place with tremendous support in the cast of older actresses (and a few good actors, in particular, the late Charles Weldon as a homeless man). In addition to Martin and O’Connell, there are wonderful turns from Joyce Van Patten, Phyllis Somerville, and the ageless Estelle Parsons, among a cluster of others you’ll recognize without knowing their names.