Written & Directed by Kent Jones
We all know someone like Diane. From the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed, these women are shuttling friends & family to and from the doctor, dropping off casseroles, and volunteering at their church. They live in a perpetual state of being a servant but neglect their own self-care at a substantial cost. There’s a lot about Diane that could be depressing if you refuse to look beyond the surface. The film exudes communal warmth despite its icy rural Massachusetts setting.
Diane does all the above while fretting over her only son Brian. He’s a junkie who has grown furious over his mother’s constant check-ins. Diane is getting tired of checking in but feels obligated to because he is her child. Looming over her is guilt from actions she took during his childhood that she thinks may have pushed him in this direction. As a result, Diane is always doing for others with no regard for herself. Eventually, the exhaustion gets to her, and we see the woman snapping at others, drinking to excess at a bar, and feeling herself crumble away.
The opening shot of the film is of Diane, falling asleep in a chair in a hospital room. Her dying cousin, Donna, looks on Diane with pity. This establishes the whole tone and theme of the picture. Other women are dying in peace while Diane lives in misery. She mentions how she’s watched her aunts pass away one by one, and the audience is privy to a quite bit of loss in Diane’s life. There are moments of joy and love, like when her older relatives gather around tables to play gin or tell family stories. These are the most joyous human moments of the picture, people managing to stop and forget their troubles for a bit.
There is a common motif of driving, seeing it through Diane’s eyes, and this comes to represent the way she never stops, she keeps moving. Everyone around her knows she’s wearing herself down. When Diane indulges in margaritas, her elderly aunts and uncles come to carry her home. When cousin Donna finally passes, her mother embraces Diane, telling the woman how much Donna loved her. Despite all these reassurances, Diane cannot forgive herself.
The potent core of this picture is Mary Kay Place as Diane. Place has become a regular face in independent cinema for years, always a supporting player who stole the show. It’s about time that she was given a starring lead, and Place brings heartbreaking depth to the role. You can see the weight on her as she moves through the cycle of errands, always trying to stiffen up and ignore the exhaustion. She brings the determination of a character treating themselves like an ascetic monk, going through painful trials as a way to prove their worthiness.
Diane ends up alone, something the film tells us from the beginning. This is a fact of life, everyone you know will die, and someone ends up being the last person. In the third act, Diane is spending most of her time alone, but in this solitude, we see her picking up Emily Dickinson. This leads to a therapy journal where she tries writing poetry about what is going on in her life. This could easily be read as depressing, but as someone who treasures his solitude, I see this as what Diane needed. She finally stops and allows her mind to focus on herself, on healing, and ultimately forgiving.