Just a few weeks after Sebastian Lelio gifted us with an English-language remake of Gloria Bell, about a woman in her 50s looking for love and connection in Los Angeles, writer/director Kent Jones (Hitchcock/Truffaut) puts his own spin on the solo female protagonist story with Diane. The similarities between the two end there, however. This time starring Mary Kay Place (Being John Malkovich, Girl, Interrupted) in the titular role, the film revolves a life she’s built devoted to others: her drug-addicted son Brian (Jack Lacy); a cousin in hospice care (Deirdre O’Connell); the men and women she and her best friend Bobbie (Andrea Martin) serve at the local soup kitchen.
But where Lelio mines the still very vibrant life of a woman society may deem “past her prime,” Jones shifts his focus past even all that. Diane is solidly in that advanced phase of life where everything begins to disappear around her—memories fade, friends and loved ones pass away, and the comfort of tradition and familiarity is less and less reliable. She’s spent her life doing what’s right for the right reasons, but it doesn’t seem to matter; it all still comes to an end eventually, and as she struggles with that reality in the midst of keeping up her day to day routine, there’s a sort of existential crises that plays out on screen.
Jones’ script covers a lot of ground, emotionally and chronologically, while never becoming too big for its own good. The passage of time is evident as characters move from chapter to chapter in their lives, Diane doing her best to keep up. Brian is a hot mess at the outset, his addiction controlling him and his hurtful interactions with his mother; later, he’s in recovery and, like a driver on an icy road, he’s over-corrected into a life devoted to God. Watching the dynamic between mother and son evolve over the years is as captivating as it is heartbreaking. There’s a secret in Diane’s past that hurt Brian deeply, and though her guilt over it seems to be worse than any shame anyone else could assign her, their confrontation over it—and over the impact it’s had on their relationship over the years—is a poignant scene in a film with several of them.
Above all, Diane is a meditation on death, both literal and figurative. By its third act, what at first felt like a bit of a macabre theme actually becomes quite comforting; after all, it is the inevitable end for us all, whether we like to think about it or not. Though just over an hour and a half long, nothing about Diane is rushed. With a thoughtful touch, Jones and his ensemble cast offer a highly relatable slice-of-life character study; Place delivers a performance to rival Julianne Moore’s tour de force in Gloria Bell. Diane may be a fictional character, but everyone knows someone whose identity is wrapped up in their martyrdom (or may be that person). What happens when everyone and everything we give ourselves over to goes away? What’s left then? And what will have it all been for when our time is up, too?
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