There is a random quality to Netflix’s instantly streaming program that I really love. Not everything is available all the time; movies come and go. So when I saw “Diner” in my recommended queue Saturday night, I immediately clicked through. Netflix then recommended “Breaking Away,” which made for a very nice 80s double-feature.
BA is charming, but creaks a little with age and sentiment. (Although props to the filmmakers for a) Paul Dooley’s speech outside the library b) the look on the bad guy’s face at the climax, which makes him less of a bad guy.) Diner has aged beautifully. It is almost a perfect film, Mr. Lippman and I agreed. We would change two things:
1) The shiksa goddess on the horse. This character shows up again in Levinson’s personal films and it’s okay that she’s utterly baffling to the boys who woo her, not so okay that she’s baffling to the writer.
2) In the White Castle after their triumphant outing at the strip club — a moment that comes a little too close to a trope I despise, the white-guy-so-cool-he-makes-black-people-dance* but Timothy Daly’s coiled anger and the lack of actual dancing keep it from going too far — the stripper asks Daly’s character if he has a girl. He says he’s in love, but doesn’t have a girl. Does she know, the stripper asks? “I told her,” he says. The stripper’s response (“Told her? Didn’t you show her?” IIRC) is too on-point. Cut the line, Mr. Lippman and I agreed, and the scene would be better.
Pauline Kael saved Diner. She reviewed the film for the New Yorker despite its absence of a true release and, IIRC, shamed the studio into releasing it. Granted, Baltimoreans of a certain age are going to prize it more than anyone, but it’s a remarkably well-made, well-written and tender film with a lot of great young actors. Plus, it features Michael Tucker’s very authentic Baltimore accent. Tucker later went on to become famous via LA Law, but he was a Baltimore boy, bred and buttered as the saying goes. I met him at a book event once and admitted that I had a hard time doing a Baltimore accent. “I have a hard time not doing one,” he said.
Nominations for perfect films, in the comments section, please.