It’s nice to see women of a certain age being represented in film lately. With Julianne Moore in Gloria Bell, we saw a woman still in the prime of her life trying to hang on to what makes her feel special. In Greta, we saw Isabelle Huppert as a woman with a past, who could snap at any moment. In the mournful and tender Diane, we have Mary Kay Place as a 70-year-old woman coming to terms with her own consuming guilt. And thankfully, it’s a film that continues the ongoing cinematic trend of truly fascinating older female screen protagonists.
Diane (Place) is continuously on the run to help whoever needs her. She’s a 70-year-old woman whose life is defined by the work she does for others. She volunteers at a soup kitchen, and she visits her ill cousin (Deirdre O’Connor) in the hospital daily and tends to her drug-addicted son (Jake Lacy). Diane may distract herself to keep busy, or maybe because she is consumed by a paralyzing sense of guilt for sins committed in her younger years. We follow Diane’s life as she comes to terms with her what her life is now, where all of her friends are dropping like flies, and her past, where she was never able to make things right.
This is the defining performance of Mary Kay Place’s career. She’s been well-known on the indie circuit for years, and you leave hoping this might be the film to earn her the recognition she deserves. She’s in every scene and every moment provides a stronger foundation for the woman Diane is and how she ended up in the purgatory her life has become. We rarely ever see Diane at home with her own thoughts, and there’s a reason for that. This is a less showy performance than you may expect, and yet the viewer learns so much about why this woman is the way she is and the internal push and pull that has led to where she is now. And like the movie itself, Place is quietly stunning and heartbreaking.
This film has an absolutely outstanding supporting cast. Jake Lacy, as her son, essentially plays two characters, as the drug-addicted son who turns his life around and somehow becomes even more insufferable. And we have Phyllis Somerville, Estelle Parsons, Andrea Martin, Joyce Van Patten and Glynnis O’Connor as the friends in Diane’s life, and while none of these are huge roles (Andrea Martin has the most to do), they all bring something memorable to the table. It might just be that it’s kind of remarkable to see this many legends who you don’t see around very often anymore, playing off each other, and none of them have missed a beat.
Writer/director Kent Jones, who most recently made the excellent Hitchcock/Truffaut documentary, proves himself to be just as talented a narrative storyteller as a documentarian. This is a film about working-class American women that doesn’t condescend to any of its characters, and yet has a deep sense of sympathy for all of them. Diane’s story could be interpreted as a meditation on aging or a look into the life of a caregiver, or as a story about what guilt does to a person’s psychosis.
And while I compared this film to Gloria Bell and Greta earlier in this review, don’t be mistaken for a moment that this is anything like those films. Diane is not like Gloria Bell, a portrait of a woman trying to live her best life. And unlike Greta, there is nothing quietly menacing behind Diane’s eyes. This is a story of a woman who has always put others before herself, and what happens when she’s finally sitting in her living room alone, alone with her thoughts. It’s a thoughtful and brilliantly acted character study that is definitely worth seeing.