Nine months ago I went apeshit for Kent Jones‘ Diane (IFC Films). “One of those modest, drill-bitty, character-driven films that just reaches in and flips your light switch,” I wrote. “It makes you feel human. It makes you care.”
I was especially knocked out by Mary Kay Place‘s titular performance, but you know what? I didn’t have the courage or stamina to start re-promoting her performance when award season began several weeks back. Because Diane had opened and gone away so many months beforehand, and because IFC Films wasn’t pushing her, and because no one else was on the Mary Kay bandwagon.
And so I dropped it. I folded. I moved on. I knew she’d given one of the best lead female performances I’d seen in a long time, and I didn’t have the strength to keep reminding people of this.
But the Los Angeles Film Critics Association did. A couple of hours ago they gave Mary Kay Place their Best Actress award. My immediate reaction was one of elation mixed with a little shame. Because, as I’ve just explained, I didn’t have the fortitude. HE salutes the LAFCA foodies for doing the right thing in this regard. They showed real backbone.
Many have said this is a weak year for Best Actress performances, and they’re not wrong. Lupita Nyong’o winning two (or is it three?) Best Actress trophies for channelling Jamie Lee Curtis in her John Carpenter phase is proof of that. But Mary Kay Place is the real deal. Her Diane turn is more arresting than any other female performance I’ve seen this year.
IFC Films hasn’t mounted a Best Actress campaign for MKP because they’ve haven’t the surplus dough, but this shouldn’t stop Academy and SAG members from watching Diane at the first opportunity. It’s streaming right now on Amazon.
From my 3.27.19 review: “The Oscar situation is always weighted against intimate, small-scaled films that open in the spring, but at the very least Diane is a guaranteed Gotham and Spirit Awards contender for Best Picture. And I can’t imagine Mary Kay Place, who plays the titular character, not being an all-but-certain contender for a Best Actress Oscar nom. Unless SAG and Academy voters take leave of their senses. Which is always a possibility.”
As we speak Place is anything but an all but certain contender for a Best Actress Oscar nom, in part because of cowards like myself.
“Diane is really and truly the shit. Even if you’re a GenZ or Millennial who doesn’t want to think about what life will be like 35 or 40 years hence, it’ll still sink in. There are those, I’m presuming, who’d rather not settle into a simple Bressonian saga about the weight of responsibility and life being a hard-knocks thing a good part of the time. Or who’d rather not consider the existence of a 70-year-old New England woman who lives alone but has good friends, and who drives carefully, tries to do the right thing, works part-time in a homeless soup kitchen and has been coping with certain dark recollections for decades.
“Diane is certainly a rural New England mood trip. Wake up, make the bed, shovel the snow, prepare the coffee, tidy up, get it done, visit your bum son. Late winter, melting snowdrifts, real world, limited income, older person blues, “being 70something is no picnic”, enjoy a drink now and then, my friends are dropping like flies.
“All through Diane you can sense tragedy waiting to pounce, and you’re constantly preparing for a shock of some kind. Including the simple kiss of death. But it goes in a different direction.
“I know that Place has been working all along, but the last time I said ‘whoa, she’s extra-good in this‘ was when she played Orson Bean‘s hard-of-hearing secretary in Being John Malkovich, which was 20 years ago. Before that it was her Meg Jones performance (i.e., the no-boyfriend single who wants to get pregnant) in The Big Chill. She’s certainly never played a lead role as substantive as Diane. So there’s your Best Actress narrative — MKP played supporting characters all her life, and then fortune smiled when Kent Jones came along.
“I’ve known the New England realm since my teens, and Diane is as real as it gets when it comes to ‘I went to sleep dreaming life is beauty, but woke up knowing life is duty.’ I know that tune backwards and forwards. My younger brother died of an Oxycontin overdose, and I’ve known druggies who’ve cleaned up by flipping into religion (drugs or God, they need a crutch) and I’ve known a few older women who resemble Diane in this or that way.
“And it’s all in this one film, the whole magilla, the whole chilly-ass weather vibe, the whole Connecticut or Massachusetts or Maine feeling of cold mushy woods and trees without leaves. Doing necessary errands, schmoozing with old friends in someone’s kitchen, visiting another friend who’s dying of cancer…all of that.
“Over and over I visited my parents in their assisted living penal colony in Southbury, and years of doing that really had an effect. New England itself can feel like a penal colony between November and April.”