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'Diane' review: A bleak but stunning debut film from Kent Jones

Mary Kay Place stars in the New York Film Festival director's first feature.

Mary Kay Place stars in "Diane."

Mary Kay Place stars in "Diane."  Photo Credit: IFC FIlms

'Diane' 

Directed by Kent Jones

Starring Mary Kay Place, Jake Lacy, Estelle Parsons

Unrated 

Playing at IFC Center, BAM

Being director of the New York Film Festival means getting a close look at a lot of great movies, so it is no surprise that the first narrative film from Lincoln Center’s top cinephile Kent Jones  is strong. (His previous work has been in documentary, mostly about film culture.)

“Diane” is a patient, meticulously detailed portrait of the type of woman who never gets a movie made about her. It takes a filmmaker of great vision and courage to try, however, because this story is one heck of a downer. Diane (Mary Kay Place, proving herself a winner) is someone constantly on the go. Visiting hospitals, calling on sick friends, working in a soup kitchen, dropping off frozen meals in borrowed casseroles. She zooms around the gray small town that always has some snow on the ground, ticking through a checklist of errands, talking with friends about the woes of older members of the community. This one has a bad hip, this one smokes too much, this restaurant was better before they remodeled. Still, somehow, she remains optimistic.

Whether she is motivated out of pure altruism or making up for past sins is something you’ll need to sleuth out for yourself, but “Diane” (both the film and the character) changes in the presence of her drug-addicted son (Jake Lacy). Is Diane  an eternal well of forgiveness, or will she eventually run dry? In an interesting twist, it’s the more plastic aspects of slick organized religion that seem to be the one thing the eternally righteous won’t turn the other cheek to.

While light on narrative, the relaxed pace to some scenes is what makes them so riveting. A multigenerational mix of neighbors around a kitchen table telling stories most of them have heard a hundred times before is instantly recognizable, even if Diane’s somewhat rural, middle class surroundings are different from our own. The movie oozes real life which can get pretty grisly at times, particularly with the scenes of Diane’s cousin (Deirdre O’Connell) slowly dying of cancer.

Though there are occasional chuckles, this is a grim, cold movie that goes from bleak to black. I can’t exactly recommend it in the common use of the word. We only get so many nights off! But as a remarkable example of innovative and exceptional filmmaking, look no further.

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