‘Diner’ makes food fun

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By Kelly Dolejsi

This winter – like, let’s be honest, all hibernation seasons – has been entirely about food.

Last month, the library put mozzarella and meatballs on the screen with “Big Night.” Before that, the film series served up “Fried Green Tomatoes,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (complete with lamb for the vegetarians) and even a big, delicious slice of interracial politics in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

It’s enough to throw off anyone’s diet.

And this week, the series concludes with Barry Levinson’s “Diner,” the final course in what has been a vivacious, varied and always tasteful occasion.

“Diner,” set in Baltimore in 1959, follows a group of six friends as they try to become men without giving up being boys. Although the film itself is comedic and ultimately optimistic, the screen-shots are persistently ugly and dark, seemingly lit only by dialogue, the best of which takes place well after midnight, over roast beef sandwiches.

One of the things I like best about “Diner” is its no-apologies attitude toward food. In this movie, food is never a way to meet our daily requirements of vitamins and protein. It’s never fulfilling some unmet emotional need. It’s an excuse to get together with the guys, nothing more.

It’s refreshing to see food, a topic with which so many Americans, including me, have an unseemly amount of psychological baggage, reduced to this primal role. We don’t necessarily eat in order to make up for our lack of professional ambition or for our parents’ many mistakes. We don’t always break bread to help us cope with our failures at love or to fill the existential abyss. We can break it just to share it.

Food is fun again.

Maybe that’s because “Diner” was made in 1982, before we all started worrying about trans fats. Here, the guys worry about marriage, babies, debts and, in general, growing up. Growing waists are never a concern.

And really, why should they be? Why should any of us lose any time thinking about the carbohydrate content of a plate of French fries with gravy? Don’t we all have something more interesting and more critical to think about?

And don’t we have some better method for dealing with all the issues  associated with growing up – and with being a grown-up – than said French fries?

Eat the fries or don’t, “Diner” wisely says: What matters is your connections to other people and your ability to make real decisions.

I also enjoyed the film because it stars a ridiculously young Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon and Paul Reiser. Rourke plays one of those shallow idiots who turns out to be something of a sweetheart. Bacon plays a wayward trust-fund alcoholic. Reiser, whose work I normally do not enjoy, is actually funny.

Everyone’s funny. Everyone’s a little heartbroken. Everyone’s young. And they’re all hanging out at the diner between momentous, life-changing events, finding an escape not in the food, which is probably not the greatest, but in talking to each other – and saying a whole bunch of stupid, meaningless, hilarious nothing.

Here’s a movie that reminds you how important those conversations are.

Mesa Public Library will present “Diner” (rated R for language and some sexuality) as part of its Free Film Series at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the upstairs meeting room theater.

The series is made possible by Friends of the Library, and is co-sponsored by the Los Alamos Arts Council. For more information, call 662-8240 or visit www.losalamosnm.us/library.

Kelly Dolejsi is a member of the Los Alamos Arts Council.