Diane (Mary Kay Place) has a heavy load. Her cousin (Deirdre O’Connell) is dying from cervical cancer, and her son (Jake Lacy) is a junkie. One wants her help, the other doesn’t, but that doesn’t stop Diane. Watching her, you get the sense this is the role Diane has always had, as a mother, as a relative, as a friend, and, possibly, as a wife. It’s a thankless job, but Diane isn’t looking for gratitude. She knows if she doesn’t hold the world together, no one else will.
Set in the icy cold winters of Massachusetts, Diane is a character study where the subject is kept just out of arm’s reach. There is a distance between Diane and her loved ones and Diane and the camera. You almost want to reach and out and hug her, but you know you shouldn’t. Writer/director Kent Jones seems to enjoy this desire, but he never indulges. And with good reason: Diane is humane in a way you’d hope anyone tasked with this burden would be.
That does not make Diane a saint. While she cares for others, you’re never sure if she cares. There’s a quick shot of her son, now recovered, smiling at a born again church ceremony when a fellow believer (Celia Keenan-Bolger) gently touches his hand. It’s not the first time someone has skipped to the thirteenth step, and probably not the first time Diane’s seen it. Be wary of skeptics, Diane quietly muses, they are the ones who trust not because they know all too well no one can be trusted.
As a matter of speculation, Diane’s probably seen it all and then some. Not that she has hardened her heart and turned herself off to the world — one margarita-fueled sway to Willie Nelson reveals underneath her hardened exterior beats the vibrant heart of someone who still feels — but Diane also knows that there are no easy answers in this harsh world.
There are no easy answers in Diane. Using a mostly static camera, which always seems to be in just the right place, Jones uses camera dissolves like ellipses, blurring and compacting the timeline of Diane’s story. The results are both mundane and melancholic; a day-to-day sameness that is crushingly cyclical. And yet, there is comfort in the cycle.