Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Case For Diner As a Classic Holiday Film

It's that time of year again when horrible dreck like the Beach Boys' "Little Saint Nick" invades public space and all manner of sugary, treacly holiday films and specials take over my television.  I tend to avoid this stuff by re-reading Dickens' A Christmas Carol, which has a truer and more political core to it.

In my quest to find holiday entertainment that doesn't give me a sugar-induced bellyache, I've realized that Diner, one of my favorite films, is in actuality a holiday classic.  In case you don't know, it's a film made in 1982, but set in 1959.  The main characters are men in their 20s living in Baltimore who are no longer teenagers, but are drifting and haven't quite yet made the transition to adulthood.  Having spent the bulk of my twenties in grad school, it's a feeling I know all too well.  They go out, hang around, and always end up at the end of the night at their favorite diner for conversation.  It really captures a certain time in life, and a life transition that is awfully tricky to handle.

There are some plot points, like one character owing money to bookies, another having troubles with his marriage, and another about to get married while feeling ambivalent about it.  However, it's mostly a character study of a bunch of guys going through their lives over the course of a week.  The week itself is significant: the week between Christmas and New Year's.  

Plenty of holiday movies use Christmas and New Year's for their setting, but Diner is the only one, to my knowledge, that gets at the supreme importance of the days between those holidays.  At the fraught, early 20s age of the characters, that week is when you visit home, catch up with old friends, and generally have time to kill with your buddies.  It's a time when I always feel, even to this day, that I am recharging my batteries and can afford to get a little silly.  

Holiday fare tends to emphasize the role of family, but the holidays are also an important time to be with your friends.  For years, every New Year's Eve I would visit a close friend in Lincoln, Nebraska, and we would spend the evening with his circle, eating an elaborate home-cooked dinner topped off with wine and a bottle of quality Irish whiskey.  We would then spend the next day watching samurai movies, preferably by Kurosawa.  Now, with my family responsibilities and the greater difficulty of journeying home, this wonderful ritual is no longer part of my life.  I've long made the transition to settling down, but what I would give for one of those New Year's celebrations with my friends.  That Diner understands the meaning of friendship in the holidays is why it ought to be screened just as much on cable TV this time of year as It's a Wonderful Life.

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