Diane is a small drama. This is not a comment on the talent on the screen or behind the camera. Rather, it describes the intimacy of a focused character study of one woman at a particular time in her life.
Diane (Mary Kay Place) is a caretaker. She doesn’t do it professionally; it’s who she is. She takes care of her dear cousin, who’s dying in the hospital. She takes care of her friends and neighbors who are all aging their way into needing support sometimes. She takes care of her struggling son, Brian (Jake Lacy), though he often fights back at her somewhat suffocating attempts at telling him what to do. Diane takes care of everyone because she wants to, but her face has fleeting hints at the sense of obligation rather than affection propelling her.
If you go into Diane expecting her to have a breakdown or to get her groove back, this is not that kind of movie. Instead, we get to spend some time with a complex character and get to know her particular situation and what makes her tick. As perfect as Diane presents herself to those around her, she has certain flaws in her past that she would rather forget. She also has buttons to push and triggers to pull that interrupt her generous spirit from time to time. Some of the most satisfying scenes in the film come from her speaking up for herself and getting a little spicy with people she doesn’t like. At first, this may seem like she’s heading down the road to a personal revelation, but in fact we’re just seeing a side of Diane we hadn’t seen before. She’s more complicated than we give her credit for and these intermittent surprises are fascinating discoveries.
Place is wonderful in bringing to life the exact kind of woman who’s often forgotten. A pillar of her community like Diane is not necessarily taken for granted from those she helps, but when are women of this age, without any overt signs of the extraordinary, shown as central characters in feature films? Every person has an interesting story to tell, and the respect and dignity that Place brings to this role is commendable.
The other notable superlative in Diane is showing a character who’s not a loner. Diane has a strong network of friends and family. Though she’s a nurturing person, she has that same support from several people around her too. So often these small, personal dramas focus on people who are not a part of a community, and their introspection becomes a central part of their stories. Diane is not alone, nor is she lonely, but that doesn’t mean that she’s without internal conflict.
Diane is not here to change the world, or even your view of the world, but it’s an excellent look at one woman trying to do her best with what she can.