Diane (**)  (Unrated) 

It’s always interesting to see what happens when a prominent film critic decides to step behind the camera and put his or her money where their mouth is and actually make a film. Sometimes the results can be positive as evidenced by the case of critic turned filmmaker, Rod Lurie (The Contender). And then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum.

Case in point is the latest effort by the noted film critic for Film Comment, Kent Jones. Jones’ narrative debut, Diane, features a sublime lead performance by an actress—in this instance, Mary Kay Place—and for that he certainly deserves some of the credit in both his direction, writing and casting choices. Unfortunately, it also falls victim to so many of the problems and cliches that have plagued the modern indie film for the last several years, problems that have resulted in a growing disenchantment with this type of film for many who once embraced them.      

Diane is a film with great potential in its early scenes. The title character (Mary Kay Place) is certainly relatable enough. She’s a woman of indeterminate age but likely in her late 60s/early 70s, who spends most of her days doing for others but getting little to nothing of substance in return.  She ekes out a quiet existence in her small, rural Massachusetts environment and seems to be the walking poster child of being alive but not really living. She spends her days slavishly following comfortable routines visiting sick relatives and working at a local soup kitchen with her best friend (Andrea Martin).

And then there is her thirtysomething year old son (Jake Lacy) who seems incapable or unwilling to free himself of the clutches of his overpowering drug habit.  This leads eventually to the unraveling of Diane’s world that provides some glimpses of her troubled past that has put her on this path in life.   

The first act of the film proves to be quite involving as the viewer is thrust into Diane’s world. Everyone knows someone like this and some viewers might even recognize a bit of themselves in Diane. Unfortunately, the film eventually comes off the rails as writer/director Jones insists on dispatching major characters as an aside and piling on scenes that may be interesting to him but disconcerting and confusing for the viewer. To put icing on the cake, Jones insists on going for a strange non-ending that has little to nothing in common with the rest of the film, a tired staple of modern indie films.

It’s so sad to see a film a with such potential in the early stages crash in such a frustrating, deliberate and eventually maddening way. Sadly, my overall disenchantment is the only lasting takeaway with which I was left.    

Diane is available to rent online on Amazon and YouTube.

Photo: Mary Kay Place as Diane

Questions or comments? Write Adam at [email protected].