It’s 1976, and life as a Long Island clam digger ain’t easy. Not only do four lifelong friends working the waterways have to deal with personal tragedy, family conflict, and unrequited romance, but there’s a new corporate fishery in town that’s slowly squeezing independent operators out by restricting their operations to steadily diminishing stretches of coastline that have largely been fished out.
Hunt (Paul Rudd) is dealing with more issues than usual. His father has just died and he’s having trouble deciding what to do with the ashes, his sister (Maura Tierney) is sleeping with his friend Jack (Ron Eldard, doing a solid Wooderson impersonation), and his summer fling with a vacationing Manhattanite (Lauren Ambrose) is leading him to question whether he should continue in the family business or try to bust out and make a go of being a professional photographer.
In its own meandering way, “Diggers” examines issues of loss, corporate encroachment, and the compromises we all make in order to succeed. Lozo (Ken Marino, who also wrote the script) resents the actions of South Shell as much as anyone else, but soon finds himself considering employment there just so he can feed his family. Rudd and Eldard add some nicely comedic touches to what nevertheless amounts to a rather personal story, but in the end it’s really not anything you haven’t seen many, many timed before.
Give Marino credit for taking a rather stale theme and placing it in an original setting. “Diggers,” unfortunately, treads some pretty well-worn ground: Hunt never really got close to his father before he died, and he’s an artist languishing in a blue collar environment which would seem to be his sole destiny. You can be excused for thinking all this sounds awfully familiar.
And I’m not marine wildlife expert, but maybe the reason the clam beds aren’t producing as much is because of the staggering number of cigarettes these guys lob into the bay.
“Diggers” isn’t a bad film, but the underlying premise – the longing one feels to escape from a dead-end, small town life – has been so beaten to death in the movies that no amount of accurate 70s design or subtlety in the performances can hide the fact.