Mary Kay Place has quietly and resolutely been doing sterling work in the movies and television since her “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” days, but “Diane,” in which she plays a widow in rural Massachusetts, is perhaps the first time she has had a full-scale role that is worthy of her. She plays a woman whose life is bound up in sacrificial service to others. Diane is a bit like a New England version of a character in a Chekhov or Sholom Aleichem story – a holy sufferer.
She endures much sorrow, including a drug-addicted son (Jake Lacy) and the slow fade of her dying cousin (Deidre O’Connell), but she is sustained throughout by what can perhaps be best described as a dogged state of grace.
The film was written and directed by Kent Jones, a noted documentarian (“Hitchcock/Truffaut”), film critic and director of the New York Film Festival, making his dramatic film debut. He has a fine way with his cast, which also includes such stalwarts as Estelle Parsons, Joyce Van Patten, Phyllis Somerville, and, best of all, Andrea Martin (who is not in the film enough). Despite his extensive cinema literacy, I never felt l was watching a pastiche of other filmmakers’ movies.
There are some deficiencies. The narrative is set up so that the lead characters expire one by one, which can make for some pretty dreary longeurs, and the scenes with the son don’t share the lived-in verity of Diane’s scenes with her friends and family. But it’s a rarity, and a real pleasure, to find a movie that presents without condescension rural working-class people, especially women. Grade: A- (This film has not been rated.)