Acclaimed film critic and programmer Kent Jones follows up 2015 documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut with his first fiction film as writer/director, yielding decidedly uneven results. Diane is a fairly straightforward character study that doesn’t quite stick the landing, its narrative revealing a mish-mash of influences and filmic modes that ultimately don’t meld into a satisfying, edifying whole. Mary Kay Place is phenomenal as Diane, an endlessly patient, selfless middle-aged woman who spends her days visiting a sick cousin at the hospital, checking in on various elderly friends and family members, volunteering at a soup kitchen and tending to her drug addict son, Brian (Jake Lacy, giving the film’s one weak performance). Jones toys with the idea of sainthood here, giving Diane a Job-like patience as she attends to everyone but herself; but he smartly eases back to reveal the damaged human behind the serene façade. Indeed, Diane’s gradual unraveling is well realized by Place, wisely avoiding emotional hyperbole, instead presenting itself as a kind of general weariness that metastasizes into anger, regret, and self-loathing.
The second half of the film introduces elliptical time jumps, as scenes start covering weeks, years, and, in the end, seemingly decades, as Diane ages and her friends and family begin dying. This is mostly strong material, and Jones has an eye for unfussy realism and an authentic sense of place. But Diane is weakened by some odd choices; there’s an ill-placed dream sequence that seems like it might be a kind of emotional skeleton key to Diane’s past, but it’s too opaque to be really effective. There’s also a kind of final confrontation between Diane and Brian — he’s now clean, has found religion, and is not-so-happily married — that feels over-written and artificial. Secrets from the past come bubbling up, but the film hasn’t laid the narrative framework for this sort of thing to be meaningful. Jones is attempting a kind of profound transcendence that’s grounded in the quotidian details of everyday life, a la Bresson (Diane has clear echoes of both Diary of a Country Priest and Au Hasard Balthazar), but just can’t conjure that strange alchemy required to make it work.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | Issue 3.