Some people are motivated by genuine altruism. The good deeds they do come from an inner sense of, for want of a better word, love.
Diane isn’t one of those people. Not that she doesn’t do good deeds. Nor is she incapable of love. It’s just that what motivates Diane, as portrayed by the veteran actress Mary Kay Place in Kent Jones' film titled, aptly enough, “Diane,” is far too complicated to be described by one single word.
Unless that word is guilt, which seems to be as much a factor in Diane’s life as anything.
Jones, who both wrote and directed, never makes clear why his protagonist should feel guilty. Instead, we get only clues. They show up in the apology she makes to her dying cousin – an apology she obviously has made before and one that has never been fully accepted. They show up in the love-hate relationship she has with her drug-addicted son (played effectively by Jake Lacy) and the memory he has of one lost weekend in their shared past.
They show up in an extended bar scene that features Diane drinking alone, enraptured by a juke-box song, dancing as if in a self-perpetuating dream – before drinking herself into a stupor that gets her eighty-sixed right into the waiting arms of her friends.
And it is the auspicious appearance of those friends that demonstrates – whatever the inner demons are that plague her – just how much so many of those around her not only appreciate Diane’s inherent goodness but are willing to forgive any transgressions she might once have committed.
Jones’ film is unusual in construction. Yes, it has a beginning, a middle and an end – though that end comes courtesy of a telescoped time frame that addresses just as much about essential human mortality as it pertains to Diane’s story in particular. But Jones is less interested in narrative than he is in mood and tone. Many of the scenes in “Diane” are set-pieces, all featuring Diane doing her daily rounds.
We see her in the hospital with her ill cousin, badgering her son to clean up his act, serving food in a public kitchen, eating meals and commiserating with her best friend (played by Andrea Martin) or just hanging out with older members of her extended family (among whom are the too-little-seen Glynnis O’Connor and the 1967 Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Estelle Parsons).
And in all this, actress Place is perfect. Mostly a featured player during her long career – from the 1970s sitcom “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” to such films such as Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 ode to the past “The Big Chill” – Place fills the lead role here exceptionally well.
In the end, “Diane” the movie is mostly about the passage of time, and how time affects – and sometimes alters – our basic natures. Diane the character is a good person who is weathered by life, somber by nature, a woman looking for something – most likely redemption but, save that, a sense of inner peace – that she may never find.
But that doesn’t stop her from trying.