In "American Graffiti" George Lucas immortalized the year 1962 with a tale of friends on the brink of adulthood cruising southern California’s Sunset Strip one last time. Ten years later Barry Levinson tried to play the nostalgia card again, this time set in grungy Baltimore just prior to New Year’s Eve 1959, and the result is a tedious hodgepodge of adolescent ramblings and juvenile pranks that for some mysterious reason still garnered a fair degree of critical acclaim. The soundtrack of old tunes adds back-up without adding depth (compared to "Graffiti" whose soundtrack was as vital as any other character) although the period touches are impeccable—those cars! But Levinson leaves too many dangling threads and despite good performances from his cast of future somebodies (Steve Guttenberg, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Paul Reiser, Ellen Barkin) there simply isn’t enough meat to a script which consists mainly of B.S. sessions, posturing, and the usual animosity between generations with slacker Kevin Bacon’s successful older sibling coming across as an unimaginative stuffed shirt. One scene did impress me however—a couple discussing a dire relationship problem in a television studio are uncannily mirrored by the dialogue between two lovers in an old film being aired at the same time. A rather paltry recommendation but it’s the only thing that stood out in an otherwise pointless and meandering mess.
A few years ago a magazine ran a feature on Barry Levinson's debut film "Diner," claiming it as one of the most influential films on what would become the indie boom of the 90s; mostly because it favored dialogue and character-driven scenes over plot and action. They have a point as talking became the new action for directors as varied as Taratino, Linklater, Whit Stillman, and Kevin Smith. However, Levinson was hardly the first to do this (see: Altman, Woody Allen, Godard) and this film has not aged particularly well, despite featuring a lot of actors at the start of their careers (Mickey Rourke used to be a good looking dude). It's decidedly a guy's film and two of the most famous scenes, a sports quiz for a guy's fiancee and the old penis in the popcorn trick, will probably leave female viewers cold. Worth seeing for the cast, which includes Kevin Bacon, Steve Guttenberg, Paul Reiser, Tim Daly, Ellen Barkin, Rourke, and Daniel Stern. Also check out Fellini's "I Vitelloni," which handles similar material. Both "American Graffiti" and "Dazed and Confused" are better hang out movies.
I thought this was an underrated classic and was hoping to find a best kept secret. Instead, this so-called hidden gem is really just pyrite. With such a promising cast and critical acclaim on its side, I was ever so disappointed with DINER. It wasn't entertaining, it didn't redeem itself, and it didn't even feel like it was setting a tone, any characterization, or an experience for a movie-watcher to get lost in, leaving me with a bland taste in my mouth. I didn't enjoy it; I can't recommend it.
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