Kent Jones’ Diane is organized in such a way that, in the film’s observation of a mother’s day-in, day-out routine, we’re afforded an almost alchemical glimpse into the way the universe can create fleeting moments of benevolence. For Diane (Mary Kay Place), it’s all been steady if unsatisfying progress. Jones borrows extensively from the work of Abbas Kiarostami, as we observe Diane make way from one point to the next, dining with friends, serving at a church kitchen, and attempting to get her drug-addled son Brian (Jake Lacy) off the couch of his apartment. Life’s march, as it were, is filled with painfully uneventful moments that, when observed as a series of linear events, can marshal weakness and discontent. The most notable feature of Diane’s day involves her visits to the hospital, where her cousin Donna (Deirdre O'Connell) is dying from cervical cancer. They trade barbs and witticisms, before the two get into an argument regarding a stolen boyfriend. It’s an event that happened decades ago, but the sting of the moment resonates with both; forgiven but never forgotten.
Jones’ tendency is to place us in the car with Diane as she makes her journey from one stop to the next, a kind of circuitous, Sisyphean trek that acknowledges the dashes in-between each meeting. I couldn’t help but recall Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss, where an interviewee makes mention of the dash between birthday and death day on a person’s headstone, and the inherent, remarkably complex meaning behind a dash that literally contains the lifespan of a human being. Diane is an examination of that dash, with Jones carefully acknowledging both ends of the spectrum, from the comforts of a warmly hued dining room conversation with friends and family, to reckoning with personal failure. The rhythms and cadence of Diane will be familiar to all, and it’s to Jones’ credit that his examination reiterates a truth I first heard expressed in Yasujirō Ozu’s Late Autumn: “Life is simple. It’s people that make it complicated.” Leaving me to remark with the blasé, but capital T True statement that Diane is one of the best American films of 2018.