DINER (director/writer: Barry Levinson; cinematographer: Peter Sova; editor: Stu Linder; music: Bruce Brody/Ivan Kral; cast: Steve Guttenberg (Eddie), Daniel Stern (Shrevie), Mickey Rourke (Boogie), Kevin Bacon (Fenwick), Timothy Daly (Billy), Ellen Barkin (Beth), Paul Reiser (Modell), Kathryn Dowling (Barbara), Michael Tucker (Bagel), Jessica James (Mrs. Simmons), Colette Blonigan (Carol Heathrow), Claudia Cron (Jane Chisholm); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Jerry Weintraub; MGM; 1982)
“Thoroughly enjoyable nostalgia film about lost youth that’s as refreshing as a cup of coffee from a Greek diner.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
In his auspicious directorial debut, writer-director Barry Levinson (“Good Morning Vietnam”/”Rain Man”/’The Natural”) comes up with this utterly charming autobigraphical period piece character study of the rites of passage for a close-knit group of twentysomethings who are reluctantly taking some baby steps to reach adulthood.
It’s set during Christmas time in Baltimore, in 1959, where a Greek diner is used as the group’s hangout. They congregate regularly there to freely chat with equal vigor about girls, the Baltimore Colts, if Sinatra tops Mathis, cars, local gossip and to make obnoxious oddball childish bets.
The aimless film thrives on the interplay and detailed discussions among this group of longtime friends, all lovable and colorful characters who are searching for the meaning of life but still find themselves playing childish games to help keep them from growing up and facing adult responsibilities.
We’re asked to see the boys through the eyes of the grudge holding Billy (Timothy Daly), whose parents neglect him. Billy returns to Baltimore from grad school to spend his vacation with his pals and be the best man at his finicky friend Eddy’s (Steve Guttenberg) upcoming wedding on New Year’s Eve to Elyse (someone we never meet). Billy is in love with his pregnant girlfriend, but she doesn’t want to marry him. Eddy, in a few days, is giving his fiancée a football quiz on the Colts and if she passes they marry and if she fails they don’t. Shrevie (Daniel Stern) is a music trivia nut recently married to the restless Beth (Ellen Barkin). He works as a salesman in a TV store, but has already become jaded by marriage and finds more to talk about with the fellows in the diner than with his wife. Boogie (Mickey Rourke) is a wise guy hairdresser who falsely tells the girls he goes at night to law school to give himself more status. He’s a reckless gambler and skirt chaser looking to find a lady he can respect and how to avoid getting beaten up by underworld figures. In the meantime, Boogie tries to put the move on every girl he meets and makes bets with his pals about his sex life. Fenwick (Kevin Bacon) is rich, playful and bright, who is a drunk estranged from his wealthy family and has given up on life and is heading down an aimless path. Modell (Paul Reiser) is the sardonic type, who is so indecisive, in the film’s best diner scene, he can’t tell Eddy straight up if he wants half of his roast beef sandwich or not. He seems like a lost soul except when he’s hanging out all night with the boys in the diner and blends into the group.
The background sound is made up of the familiar classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes of the time. The dialogue might be inarticulate but is often witty; the young ensemble cast of unknowns all give great performances (over time many in the cast became stars); and the carefree life of the boys is subject to affectionate scrutiny and is good for more than a few laughs. Thoroughly enjoyable nostalgia film about lost youth that’s as refreshing as a cup of coffee from a Greek diner.
REVIEWED ON 5/19/2009 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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