Mary Kay Place delivers one of the best performances of the year in Diane, an intimate drama by Kent Jones in his feature debut.
Diane is the matriarch we all know. The one who never has time for herself because she’s always busy taking care of everyone else. You rarely see her at home, in her own element, because she’s always going somewhere: making hospital visits, volunteering at a soup kitchen, and dropping in on her son, who is suffering from drug addiction. The shots of her at home primarily involve her either cooking for someone or making lists of all the things she has to do. The film is an empathetic look at a character who is trying to stay strong for everyone around her, but as the film progresses, we see a Diane with tired eyes and a demeanour drained of that matriarchal strength.
The film is quite a sombre, yet delicate portrait of love, loss, and the effects of drug addiction on families. Diane is at the age where you begin to reflect on your younger self and how past mistakes have shaped your life, and where talking about death over lunch is just as common as talking about the weather. We don’t learn much about her as a character because she’s so busy helping other people. We are given small insights with the use of music as she recognizes a piece she says that she listened to a lot one summer, or when she has time to herself at a bar and plays around with the jukebox. It’s the only time we see her free from all her worries; dancing and singing as though she hasn’t a care in the world. But that’s not reality.
The film’s focal point is the relationship Diane has with her son Brian (played by Jake Lacy, giving the most powerful performance of his career). She is ever consumed by her son’s demons and takes on this dark disease as though it were her own. Of course, it’s what any good mother would do. But it’s also the cause of her decline. Her feelings toward her son—the worry, the fear of his death, the emptiness she feels when he doesn’t want her help, and the agitation she expresses when people mention him—are all too much for her to bear. She takes on so much guilt that it leads to a breakdown that’s hard to watch.
Diane is a character who asks “What’s wrong?” and tells others to “Please take care of yourself,” but what happens when you are so consumed by others’ suffering that you lose yourself in the process? This film illustrates the fallout and reminds us that everyone who reaches out a hand needs one in return.
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