Diner Image


By Rob Rector | May 4, 2021

Diner is a structurally strange film to embrace at a young age, as the characters would often talk over one another while crammed in a booth of a converted Airstream in Fells Point, Maryland. When my friends and I would gather at a local bistro in high school (shout out to Charcoal Pit!), I would imagine each of us as these characters, minus the cool nicknames.

If one of us was in a relationship, he was either ‘Shrevie’ (Daniel Stern), who was stuck in a joyless marriage and yearned for time with the fellas, or Eddie (Steve Gutenberg), whose impending nuptials is what brings them all together. Anyone who liked to sneak in drinks was Fenwick (Kevin Bacon), an alcoholic who is somewhat rudderless and finds himself waking up in precarious situations. And those who always managed to wiggle out of paying the bill, gladly mooch off a plate of fries but were always good for a laugh were Modell (Paul Reiser).

“Boogie was a degenerate, as in many of Rourke’s roles, but he looked so damn good doing it.”

Each time, I would always imagine myself as Boogie. Like most of his characters at the time, Rourke was a wisened stud whose life was always filled with excitement and dangerous goofs, even if it would often land him in a load of trouble. Of course, I inhabited nary one of these qualities, but that is why we have heroes, right?

Boogie joined a long list of roles for Rourke in which he reluctantly stumbled into hipness. His whisper-smooth voice, the way he held a cigarette, and his glorious head of unkempt hair were everything my teenage self thought it meant to be manly. But he was a degenerate, yet, as in many of Rourke’s roles, he looked so damn good being bad. He dresses with flair in a monochrome suit, stylish shoes, and accessorized with a pinky ring and gold chain (extravagances of his gambling lifestyle), but always looked like he just grabbed everything out of the hamper. It was as though his suavity was instinctual.

In retrospect, I am quite confident that none of us who gathered at our little booth and selected our favorite songs on the table-top jukeboxes were anywhere near as witty or wise as the gang Levinson assembled in Diner (none of us certainly had hair as amazing as Rourke). Still, the movie perfectly captures that time in our lives in which a group of us could safely sit amongst one another, share boastful lies of prowess, and, more importantly, feel safe to open up about our fears… if only for a moment. And for me, it gave me another Rourke-shaped model of masculinity, flaws and all.

Diner screened as part of the 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival.

Diner (1982)

Directed and Written: Barry Levinson

Starring: Steve Guttenberg, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Paul Reiser, Daniel Stern, Ellen Barkin, Tim Daly, etc.

Movie score: 9/10

Diner Image

"…gave me another Rourke-shaped model of masculinity, flaws and all."

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