Set in 1959, Diner shows how five young men resist their adulthood and seek refuge in their beloved Diner. The mundane, childish, and titillating details of their lives are shared. But the golden moments pass, and the men shoulder their responsibilities, leaving the Diner behind.
Steve Guttenberg ... Edward 'Eddie' Simmons
Daniel Stern ... Laurence 'Shrevie' Schreiber
Mickey Rourke ... Robert 'Boogie' Sheftell
Kevin Bacon ... Timothy Fenwick Jr.
Tim Daly ... William 'Billy' Howard (as Timothy Daly)
Ellen Barkin ... Beth Schreiber
Paul Reiser ... Modell
Kathryn Dowling ... Barbara
Michael Tucker ... Bagel
Jessica James ... Mrs. Simmons
Colette Blonigan ... Carol Heathrow
Kelle Kipp ... Diane
John Aquino ... Tank
Richard Pierson ... David Frazer
Claudia Cron ... Jane Chisholm
Seldom does a film capture fond memories with a lovable ADULT!! immaturity...You will never find a more sensational cast, Steve Guttenberg, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Paul Reiser, Tim Daly, Daniel Stern, Ellen Barkin, and Micheal Tucker!!!....This film has an astute portrayal of meaningless conversation being the key focal point for everyone and everything...The platonic bond in this film leaves room for immeasurable tolerance particularly on account of dedicated human affection and evokes an epitome of the pleasant camaraderie pertinent to the 1950's.. Friends are not friends by just saying nice things to each other, rather because they have shared their adolescent lives with one another, and the realization of adulthood sparks an indispensable fondness all of the major characters in the film mutually share!! At a glance, someone may perceive this film to be a movie version of "Happy Days"...but the intense and poignant performances of all the characters in the film (particularly Steve Guttenberg's) makes anyone who sees this movie wonder if maybe it would have been nice to live in Baltimore in 1959!!!
Usually, there is a pejorative interpretation of the term "IMMATURE", but in this film, it establishes a social cohesiveness that reflects the enviable naivety of the times!!!...Everybody recognizes everyone else's preventable flaws...The proverbial friendship safety net which perennially prevails throughout this entire film, makes them feel very fortunate because they know that their lives are not perfect!!!..Their precociousness resonates itself to a bittersweet comedy, and is advocated as such, since comedy is limitless, because so too is human error...Evaluating the actors in the movie, it is simply incredible!! Steve Guttenberg is Police Academy King!! Tim Daley in the hit show "Wings" He seemed to understand that role perfectly!! Kevin Bacon, the eighties icon including "Footloose" Daniel Stern, the director and voice in "Wonder Years" Mickey Rourke "9 1/2 Weeks" Every male between the ages of 42 and 50 is insanely jealous!! Ellen Barkin "The Big Easy" and a host of others!! and of course, Paul Reiser "Mad About You"...Acting talent of this copious quantity exudes a plethora of non disputable top notch Hollywood entertainment!! All of the actors in this film established a compilation of feelings that were genuine, for better or for worse (pun intended!!).. Memories were safeguarded to make the recognizable distinction between friends and acquaintances!! Life was irksome at times, but they always sought respite!! The boys/men knew they could attain refuge and solace at the Diner!! Be it from eating French Fries with gravy, expounding about first experiences, bickering over nothing whatsoever, and most significantly, thoroughly and completely understanding each other!!! No matter what happens they will always have the Diner!!
How many films put a realistically humorous spin on adversity!! How many films provide a humanistic heartfelt laughter about everything!! More importantly!! What films make you realize truly that people make all the difference in your life!! Diner was indeed such a film!! All of the actors in this movie have had tremendous careers, and this movie is testimony as to why!! When evaluating your life, you realize how trite imperfections are the only valid means of appreciating your precarious endeavors, and your concise perception of what adolescence transitioning into adulthood truly signifies!! It is a wonderful experience when a film far exceeds your expectations and puts an acute awareness on what matters in your life!! With the Rolls Royce of directors/writers Barry Levinson, (Natural, Rain Man & Good Morning Vietnam, to name but a few!!) and an absolutely fabulous cast, (if a director ever wants a young cast with a cop esthetically emerging potential like this one ever again, he will have to get it from the guy with the red horns!!!) this film is one of the finest!!!! Top 20 in my book and top 30 for comedies according to the critics of AFI!!!!
In the opening scene of Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs," a handful of characters debate the true meaning of Madonna's hit song "Like a Virgin." Long before "Reservoir Dogs" (a decade, to be exact), there was Barry Levinson's directorial debut, "Diner," a coming-of-age tale concerning five Baltimore residents in their 20s who try to get past crucial points in their lives. In a similar scene to that in Tarantino's masterpiece, four friends -- played by Steve Guttenberg, Mickey Rourke, Daniel Stern, and Paul Reiser -- argue over which singer produces better make-out music: Mathis or Sinatra? "Presley," says Rourke's character, ending the conversation with blunt confidence. And that's that.
The movie has plentiful rich dialogue, some of it seemingly pointless, most of it subtly touching and meaningful. The film has a lot to say about the difference between friendship and true love. "I love you," one of the characters tells the woman he wants to marry. Fixated on an object behind him, her eyes cold and a grim reflection of deep contemplation, she replies, "You're confusing a friendship with a woman, and love. It's not the same." In a very different sort of way, it tackles the same material as "When Harry Met Sally," but it doesn't stop there.
The film is masterful in its ability to present us with a group of people we sincerely care for, and who all seem very real -- more so than the characters you'll find in most movies. The dialogue was primarily improvised, especially by Paul Reiser, whose debates with fellow pals are the highlights of the film. Even after the truly poignant ending there is a discussion about evolution that plays over the credits. "Did you hear about this evolution stuff?" Reiser asks. He starts to mock the theories which would later become widely considered as truth by scientists, despite lack of actual evidence supporting the theory. Amusing, how the movie has so much to say about so many different things.
"Diner" is a film that connects with us because we can all sympathize with its characters and their inner motivations. Eddie (Guttenberg) is afraid of getting married; Schrezie (Stern) is married and wishes he wasn't; Boogie (Rourke) would like to finally find a girl he could respect; Bill (Timothy Daly) wants to get married to the girl he loves but she doesn't want to. The whole movie appears to be focused on girls, and indeed most of it is, yet there's a lot of other stuff that's even deeper. Fenwick (Bacon) is what Bacon himself described as a "permanently drunk," sick kid who doesn't know what he wants out of life, thrown out of his family and wandering the streets looking for a meaning to his life. He's the character who is so lost he doesn't even seem to care very much about girls.
Prior to "Diner," Levinson was a nobody -- and perhaps that is why his first project is that most in tune with its characters and their natures. The movie was very risky when the studio released it in 1982 -- there was talk of shelving the finished product for fear of losing money. Reluctant, MGM finally released the movie into theaters, but with poor advertising -- it tanked. Yet it received some of the greatest reviews of the year. In an effort to convince MGM, Levinson showed a screening of the movie to critic Pauline Kael, who gave it an exceptional review, as did the majority of critics at that time. On the surface, "Diner" seems rather boring -- it's just a movie about nothing, really, except growing up. Yet it captured the hearts of many, becoming a cult sleeper that still entices new fans to this very day.
It's a film of many integrating mixed genres, each one carefully balanced and perfectly maintained throughout. "Diner" has some of the best dialogue of all time, not to mention a handful of Oscar-worthy performances. This is not Levinson's best but it's one of his most deeply touching projects. It has a lot to say about many things and it actually gets around to addressing them -- which is rare to find in any movie. This is a true gem.
Recent films set in the 1950s, such as 'Pleasantville', 'Far from Heaven' and 'Mona Lisa Smile' have tended to portray the decade as being a repressed, overly conservative period. A generation ago, however, the tendency was to take a more sympathetic, nostalgic look at the fifties in films such as 'Grease' or television programmes such as 'Happy Days'. The post-Vietnam generation seemed to look back at the period immediately before that war as a lost age of innocence.
'Diner' follows a group of young men from Baltimore, former school friends now in their early twenties, over a week of their lives, that between Christmas Eve and New Year, 1959. Some of them are still living and working in the town, others are now at college, but are using the Christmas vacation as a chance to get back together with old friends. The title is taken from the diner that is their favourite meeting-place. There is no real coherent plot; the film is very episodic in structure and concentrates on character rather than on action.
As is perhaps inevitable with young men of this age, many of their preoccupations are with girls and relationships. One of them, Shrevie, is married, but seems to be discontented with married life. Another, Eddie, is engaged. A third, Billy, discovers during the course of the film that he has got his girlfriend pregnant, but when he offers to do the decent thing by her, he is disconcerted to realize that she would much rather he did the indecent one. A fourth, Boogie, seems to lead a carefree life, flitting from one romance to another. The characters are not, however, preoccupied with love and sex to the exclusion of all else. We also learn about their other private obsessions with such matters as music, sport and the cinema. Shrevie quarrels with his wife because she does not share his passion for popular music and fails to understand his complex system for cataloguing his extensive record collection. (I wonder if this scene was the origin of a similarly obsessive character in 'High Fidelity'). Eddie's passion for sport is even more all-consuming than Shrevie's for music; he subjects his fiancée Elyse to a football quiz and threatens to break off the engagement if she cannot score a sufficiently high score. A minor character knows off by heart the entire dialogue from the film 'Sweet Smell of Success'.
Many of the young actors who starred in the film have gone on to become famous names in the movie world. From my point of view the best was probably Kevin Bacon as Timothy, the rebel without a cause who has dropped out of his wealthy family and lives an aimless life. (The first time we see him he is smashing windows just for the hell of it). I was, however, also impressed by Daniel Stern as Shrevie and Mickey Rourke as Boogie.
I have never been to Baltimore, but it was clear from watching the film that the director was trying to capture the spirit of a particular place and time. It therefore came as no surprise to discover that Barry Levinson, who both wrote and directed the film, is himself a Baltimore native, although slightly younger than the characters depicted in the film. (He would have been seventeen in 1959). Despite this concentration on the particular, however, 'Diner' has a universal appeal. The film with which it has most in common is 'American Graffiti'. Although that film was actually set in the early sixties rather than the fifties, it nevertheless deals quite openly with the idea of the pre-Vietnam era as a golden age. 'Diner' does not deal with this theme so overtly, but there is still nevertheless a distinct sense of an era coming to an end. It is significantly set in the final week of a decade, and in the wedding scene we see a large banner saying 'Eddie and Elyse- in the sixties and forever', a reminder that change is on the way, both for these young men and for America as a whole.
The most important change that the characters in 'Diner' have to come to terms with is neither social nor political, but rather the challenge of growing up. The traditional 'Coming of Age' film has tended to concentrate on adolescence and the teenage years. For many young men, however, their early twenties, when they are completing or have already completed their education, are setting out on their careers and are starting to think about more serious relationships with women, can be a time of even greater changes than their days in secondary school. All the major characters- except perhaps the serious-minded Billy who is keen to accept new responsibilities- want to hang on to elements of their boyhood even while moving into adulthood.
For Boogie, and, to an even greater degree, Timothy, this means keeping the freedom to be irresponsible. For Shrevie and Eddie, this means trying to keep hold of their youthful passions even after marriage. The discord between Shrevie and his wife (slightly older than him and considerably more mature in outlook) is caused as much by his fear that marriage will mean having to give up his association with his old friends as by her inability to differentiate between jazz and rock-and-roll. Barry Levinson's claim that Elyse's football test was based on a true incident may seem improbable, but there is some psychological truth in this part of the film. It has, after all, been said that every man's ideal woman is himself incarnated in the body of a beautiful girl, and Elyse's willingness to take this test shows that she is prepared to make sacrifices and enter into Eddie's male-oriented world.
'Diner' is a film worth seeing more than once. On my first viewing I found it dull, an inferior copy of 'American Graffiti'. The second time round, I started to appreciate it as a fine film in its own right. Barry Levinson has gone on to make a number of other good films ('The Natural', 'Good Morning Vietnam', 'Rain Man' and 'Sleepers'), but 'Diner', his first film, is perhaps his most personal and heartfelt. 8/10
* Michael Tucker, who plays "Bagel", was born and raised in Baltimore and talks in his native accent in the film.
* Michael Tucker appeared again as the character Bagel in the 'Levinson, Barry' film Tin Men (1987).
* Director Trademark: [Barry Levinson] After his appearance here, Ralph Tabakin ( TV Customer ) appeared in every Barry Levinson picture through Liberty Heights (1999).
* The diner used in the movie was moved further downtown in Baltimore, and by 2002 was an on-the-job training school for at-risk youth.
* It is claimed that James Spader is a dancing extra for a few seconds in the opening dance.
* All of the scenes in the diner were filmed last after the cast got to know each other. The dialog in those scenes is a combination of scripted and improvisational.
* Barry Levinson claims that the infamous football quiz that Eddie forces his fiancée to pass is based on something that one of his male cousins did in real life.
* A minor character in the film does nothing but repeats lines from the film, Sweet Smell of Success (1957).
* Elyse's face is hidden through the entire movie.
* MGM was reluctant to release the film, which they believed would be a commercial flop. But when they found out that critic Pauline Kael had written a glowing review in the New Yorker, they immediately released it.
* Paul Reiser had not planned on auditioning for the film. He accompanied a friend who was auditioning, and while in the waiting room, he was persuaded to come back to audition himself.
* Kevin Bacon was sick on the day of his screen test to play Fenwick. But he had previously decided that his character would probably be half-drunk during the entire movie, so he went ahead and auditioned and got the part.
* 'Barry Levinson' had the main actors arrive in Baltimore a week before filming began to get to know each other and build rapport. Predictably, the young male actors went out on the town to clubs and tried to pick up women. Sometimes they would use bogus stories about what they were doing in Baltimore. Timothy Daly says he came up with the most popular one, that they were engineers working on a rotating rooftop restaurant.
* While many have speculated about which character actually represented 'Barry Levinson' himself, the answer is none -- Barry says that each of the main characters represent a small part of his youth.
* Ellen Barkin said in 2000 that her character Beth remains the closest to how she felt in real life of any role she had ever played.
* At times during filming when friction between actors got out of hand, Levinson ushered them into a small trailer that the cast nicknamed the "comraderie camper".
* The diner used was real, operational and open for business during filming. Because there were so many night scenes, the filmmakers kept the kitchen running 24/7, and often the cast would see the sunrise as they finished the day's work quaffing beer.
* Just like his character Shrevie, 'Daniel Stern' (a Maryland native) was the only main actor who was married when Diner was filming, and thus missed out on much of the nightclub action with the other guys.