Baltimore, the week between Christmas and New Year, 1959. On the verge of adulthood, a group of young guys – Boogie (Rourke), Eddie (Guttenberg), Shrevie (Stern), Fenwick (Bacon), Modell (Reiser) and Billy (Daly) – escape their approaching responsibilities by hanging out with each other at their local diner…
Arguably, Diner could be considered the trend-setting grandfather of the bromance genre. A movie about real guys and their friends, modern audiences will likely be put off by the fact that it was made in the early eighties and set in the late fifties, but open-minded males might find that the material speaks to them. Informing the likes of Swingers and Entourage, it’s an accurate depiction of male friendship which captures the essence of guyness to a tee. It’s raw, rough, dated and a bit flat at times, but undeniably influential and frequently true to life.
The first (and arguably best) of Barry Levinson’s ‘Baltimore films’ (Tin Men, Avalon and Liberty Heights), there isn’t much in the way of story or plot – but Diner is more interested in characters and relationships. Written and directed by Levinson in his screen directing debut, it’s a semi-autobiographical tale where you just know that these guys were him and his buddies when they were younger, and that these tangential conversations are nabbed from their own diner days. This, added to the writer-director’s encouragement of improvisation to his basic script, enables realistic dialogue which flows naturally and hums with authenticity. This Is how dudes talk and think. These are the things they talk and think about.
Levinson recognises that most guys don’t have much, if anything, in common with their partners. That they view their passions and hobbies with more importance than marriage and ‘growing up’. And that they’d rather sit around talking about sex, music, food and sport with their gang – as this is the important stuff. There are a few memorable scenes (most notably, Mickey Rourke attempting the infamous ‘popcorn trick’), but best of all is Daniel Stern’s brilliantly-observed bust-up with his wife (the ever-attractive Ellen Barkin). Ever felt frustrated that your girlfriend sees your all-important passion as something trivial or been pissed that she put your anally-organised CDs or DVDs back in the wrong place? Then this argument will talk to you.
There’s also an impressive array of before-they-were-famous talent: a pre-Police Academy Steve Gutenberg, a pre-reconstructive surgery Mickey Rourke, a pre-Home Alone Daniel Stern, a pre-everything Kevin Bacon. Elsewhere, Paul Reiser and Tim Daly make up the gang.
The MTV generation and your average female won’t ‘get’ it, but Diner is hugely influential movie about guys and their friendships.