Mary Kay Place is an asset to any movie she’s in, and in Diane she is the center of attention. In his narrative filmmaking debut, writer-director Kent Jones has built a story around her, based on observations of his own family. That, and Place’s honest performance, not only ground this evocative slice of life but make it highly relatable.
Diane is a woman who gives and gives and gives. She spends much of her life driving from one place to another: to church, where she helps run a soup kitchen with her friend (Andrea Martin), to the hospital where an old friend is dying, to the home of her drug-addicted son (Jake Lacy) who is in fierce denial when we first encounter him, and to a variety of informal gatherings, mostly around a kitchen table.
In fact, it’s tempting to refer to this as a kitchen-sink drama, the term used to describe British working-class films of the late 1950s and early 60s…but most of their protagonists had ambitions, even if they ran aground. Diane’s only desire is to get along, one day at a time. This is her lot in life.
Jones has assembled a cast worthy of sharing the screen with his leading lady, including such solid talents as Estelle Parsons, Deidre O’Connell, Joyce Van Patten, and Phyllis Somerville. If they are working at their performances it doesn’t show: that is their great gift.
Diane is consistently absorbing but low-key. This won’t appeal to viewers who anticipate a major emotional climax or revelation. It’s a compassionate character study that showcases one of the most endearing of all contemporary actresses, Mary Kay Place…and that’s what makes it well worth seeing.