But if you ask me to name another picture that, at the time, gave me such immediate, gloriously unexpected pleasure, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a suitable substitute. Barry Levinson’s directorial debut has another distinction: It’s one of those movies, like A Face in the Crowd, Network, or The Shawshank Redemption, that grows in stature as time goes on. Everything about it—from its fortuitous gathering of young talent to its very survival in Hollywood’s high-concept executive suites—seems miraculous.
Let’s give Podhoretz’s piece this: he grasps the movie’s unique texture, the way it observes how “young men make connections with each other through one-upmanship, trivia games, and references to common experiences.” (Only this film, for instance, could even think of including the hilarious scene where a prospective groom administers a football trivia quiz to his unnerved bride-to-be on the eve of the ceremony.)
· Ellen Barkin, playing the film’s major female character, Beth, nearly missed three different times the role that launched her career in earnest: first by tossing the script in the trash can, then tearfully resisting her agent’s advice to take the role (the play she wanted to do instead, about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, closed after two performances), then when studio execs wanted a more conventionally attractive starlet for the role.
· Hollywood uber-agent Michael Ovitz could not see the point of the film at all.
· One studio exec had a long—and, thankfully, unsuccessful—argument with Levinson about including what turned out to be one of the film’s most memorable scenes: the prolonged pitched verbal battle between Steve Guttenberg’s Eddie and Paul Reiser’s Modell over a roast-beef sandwich.
Like George Lucas’ American Graffiti, Diner is a coming-of-age movie set in the Fifties that served as a launching pad for a constellation of future stars (in addition to Bacon, Barkin, Guttenberg, and Reiser, it also exposed filmgoers to Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, and Timothy Daly). But as Price reminds us, Levinson introduced a new subject to popular entertainment: Nothing—as in “seemingly meaningless banter… tossed about by men over drinks, behind the wheel, in front of a cooling plate of French fries.” You know: what Seinfeld made famous. Levinson has carved out a comparatively schizophrenic career as a writer-director, ranging from big-budget productions (e.g., the Oscar-winning Rain Man, The Natural, Disclosure) to a group of personal, semi-autobiographical films that might be regarded as his “Baltimore Quartet”: Diner, Tin Men, Avalon and Liberty Heights. Lack of commercial success for the latter two films left him unmoored for awhile. I continue to hope, if he has any more of these unproduced personal screenplays in a drawer in his house, that he’ll dig it out, then persuade HBO (which recently backed his teleplay on Jack Kevorkian, starring Al Pacino) to green-light this script that harks back to his best, most heartfelt work.
I'm a librarian (no, NOT a "cybrarian" or "information scientist" or any of the other trendy terms the profession has come up with), as well as a freelance writer/researcher; my political leanings are contrarian, much to the dismay of friends on the left and right, and so I will give anyone looking for my vote exactly what they deserve -- the back of my hand