TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Multiple factors pulled me into the orbit of writer/director Barry Levinson’s Diner. Having spent summers on the Eastern Shore, the film’s Baltimore locale provided “spot-the-landmark’ viewing for friends and me. Second, as a child in the 1980s, its pay-cable channel presence tempted me with its siren-call “R” rating for nudity, which was a Holy Grail for pubescence.
But perhaps most importantly, it was one of the earliest movies of my cinematic ideal of masculinity: Mickey Rourke.
I fell down the Rourke rabbit hole, having first seen him as The Motorcycle Boy in Francis Ford Coppola’s beautiful, artsy take on the S.E. Hinton novel Rumble Fish. It too frequented the VHS and pay-cable circuit in my youth. Rourke’s idiosyncratic, almost-silent performance as the damaged, bad boy was mesmerizing to me. “I’m gonna be just like him,” said Matt Dillon’s Rusty James in the film.
“…young men in Baltimore struggling with impending adulthood in the 1950s.”
“Me too, Rusty James! Me too,” I thought.
My Rourke Quest led me to Barry Levinson’s debut, in which he stars as Robert’ Boogie’ Sheftell, one of a cadre of young men in Baltimore struggling with impending adulthood in the 1950s. Growing up was a distant goal for me, but who couldn’t use some cinematic-inspired pointers?
Levison’s autobiographical debut launched the career of actors who were already staples of my youthful cinematic diet: Footloose‘s Kevin Bacon, Police Academy‘s Steve Gutenberg, C.H.U.D.‘s Daniel Stern (don’t judge me). Stretching between Christmas night to New Year’s Day in the 1950s, the movie followed these fellas as they gathered around greasy-spoon meals and reluctantly resisted adulthood in endless chatter and chops-busting.
"…gave me another Rourke-shaped model of masculinity, flaws and all."