Apr 11

“Diane”: Character Study of a Human “Saint”

Diane’s life seems entirely devoted to the needs of others, suggesting that she’s either a saint or atoning for some perceived transgression. David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter, about new film Diane

In the new indie film Diane the lead character is played by Mary Kay Place, whose performance has been widely praised. As described by Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com, Diane is an older widow “who spends most of her waking hours in service of other people.”

Some, in fact, would call her a “saint.” In the realm of codependency lore, the saints are the too-good-to-be-true helpers and enablers—who may actually be running or hiding from their own problems.

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle, on Diane’s life as depicted:

She spends a lot of time in the hospital visiting a sick friend and volunteers at a soup kitchen. Her biggest burden is her grown son (a wonderfully horrifying Jake Lacy), who is a drug addict, living in filth with his drug addict girlfriend. She wants to help him, but when she tries, he screams at her and calls her the c-word.

We might consider Diane a female Job, but the movie makes clear that she has a past. We also see that, despite her careful and considerate deportment, this is a woman with an edge. She’s no pushover.

It’s actually women of all types who are in the forefront in Diane’s world. The supporting cast includes Estelle Parsons, Andrea Martin, and Glynnis O’Connor, to name a few. Ella Taylor, NPR:

…[Director] Kent Jones (Hitchock/Truffaut) comes in praise of older women, the crankier the better. The troubled New England woman at the center of his drama seems at first to embody a familiar type: the fussy old enabler without a life of her own. But Jones proves a loving, if clear-eyed world-builder who invites us into the orbit of a woman muddling through a complicated life, rather than peddling a tactfully edited ‘senior’ identity.

Regarding the evolving story, David Edelstein, Vulture:

Diane is busy even in private, making to-do lists and then turning to a journal as her friends die one by one. Gradually, we learn that she has sinned in her own eyes but also that the sin was her truest moment of freedom from the heaviness of her life. What she did comes back to her in dreams that are spooky, from another world. Her regrets and her longings merge.

Watch the trailer below:

Critics are generally liking not only the performances but also the story and script. And while some say Diane the film is a downer, others say surprisingly not:

Jeanette Catsoulis, New York Times: “Emotions play across faces weathered by age and bonded by long experience, and the wonder is that a story this threaded with sickness and decline is neither tedious nor depressing.”

Owen Gleiberman, Variety: “The story takes its time, but will flip ahead to shock us with the matter-of-fact news of a character’s death. In ‘Diane,’ death happens and life goes on, though maybe with a heightened chill.”

David Ehrlich, IndieWire: “…a non-judgmental story about trying to reconcile meaning with meaningless before the well runs dry and it rains again.”

Jun 13

“Obvious Child”: Romantic Comedy Tackles Abortion

Romantic comedy Obvious Child, starring Jenny Slate and directed/co-written by Gillian Robespierre, is about a young comedienne’s unplanned pregnancy and her decision to have an abortion. For the way it approaches the issue, it’s been called subversive, revolutionary, groundbreaking, radical…you get the picture.

MORE ABOUT THE PLOT

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “Donna uses her life, including her old lovers and older underwear, as material for her act. Her boyfriend (Paul Briganti), a cheater who doesn’t like his sexual habits being fodder for comedy, dumps her. To the horror of her roommate Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann, wonderful), Donna indulges in a ‘a little light stalking.’ And then, here’s where the plot pivots, Donna buries her self-pity in a broken-condom one-nighter with a stranger, Max (Jake Lacy), a dude so square he wears topsiders. But Max is also, well, nice, so nice that Donna doesn’t tell him at first when she tests positive on her pregnancy test.”

THE TRAILER

THE MAIN THEMES

Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com: “The concept of using one’s life as fodder for your art is an underlying motif of’ Obvious Child…Sometimes Donna hits it out of the park. Other times, like when she goes on-stage wasted, in the wake of the breakup, and rambles on incessantly to an increasingly embarrassed audience, she falls flat on her face.”

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “Donna never doubts the wisdom of having an abortion. And Max, played by Lacy with laidback charm and sneaky wit, never doubts her right to make her own decisions. By Hollywood standards, these acts count as revolutionary.”

SUPPORTING CHARACTERS

Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times: “Donna is surrounded by the typical young adult safety net: Parents — hers are divorced and delightful: Dad Jacob (Richard Kind) is the more nurturing sort, Mom Nancy (Polly Draper) the more demanding. Friends are her quasi-family: Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann), the one with good advice; fellow stand-up Joey (Gabe Liedman), responsible for unconditional support (Liedman is Slate’s real-life comedy partner). David Cross shows up for a quick turn as an older stand-up friend/lech named Sam.”

THE POTENTIAL ROMANCE

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “The abortion itself becomes a pivot point in the slow-developing relationship between Donna and Max, and in a surprising fashion. It isn’t the obstacle they have to overcome, or the force that threatens to tear them apart; ultimately, it’s the thing that brings them together…The historic moment of ‘Obvious Child’ is not about saying that abortion is safe and legal and that’s a good thing. It’s about saying that abortion gave these two people a shot at true love.”

THE OTHER ROMANCE

Amy Nicholson, Riverfront Times: “The real love story is between Donna and the rest of womankind, the silent (in movies) but sizable majority that understands her decision. What will last is the strength of her friend Nellie’s support, her closer bond with her mother, and even the small smile she shares with another patient at the abortion clinic.”

OVERALL REVIEWS

Peter Debruge, Variety: “Until now, audiences haven’t had much choice when it comes to how pregnancy is handled onscreen. Attacking the status quo with infectious humor rather than strident criticism, Gillian Robespierre’s uproarious ‘Obvious Child’ centers a good, old-fashioned romantic comedy around a woman’s decision to abort a one-night stand gone wrong.”

Dana Stevens, Slate: “At just under an hour and half, this is one of the few movies I’ve seen in the past year that seems distinctly too short—an assessment that’s only in part complimentary. Several of the film’s most important relationships feel underdeveloped.”

Amy Nicholson, Riverfront Times: “…Obvious Child is perfect for those who want more honesty in fiction, and survivors like Donna who know that sometimes the only way to get used to pain is by hitting a tender spot over and over and then letting the bruise heal.”