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Home » Culture and Criticism

Poppy-Fields Movie Couch Of Fame: Diner

Submitted by on April 27, 2014 – 9:20 AM4 Comments


I struggled with which movie to plop onto the Couch Of Fame with an afghan and a sleeve of Thin Mints first. A classic universally acknowledged, like The Godfather? A flawed but appealing baseball flick with a dad stinger, like Field Of Dreams? A quote-fight generator like Ocean's Eleven, or its underwhelming but still effective second bastard child, Ocean's Thirteen?

None of the above.

The first film that gets its own cushion on the Poppy-Fields Movie Couch Of Fame is the very first film I gave the poppy-fields treatment back in the '80s, watching it over and over again until the threadbare tape I'd used to snag it off HBO finally gave out: Diner.

Let's check the stats:

  • lengthy? Not really; it comes in at a fairly standard 110 minutes.
  • familiar/frequent? Again, not really; this isn't one that HBO reran endlessly, or that you tended to see on cable every weekend. There was a brief flurry for its thirtieth anniversary a couple years ago.
  • classic/award-winner? Perhaps considered a minor classic now, as part of Barry Levinson's Baltimore trilogy, but emphasis on "minor." Levinson and Mickey Rourke got some minor awards notice nomination-wise; no wins.
  • "Greetings, Professor Falken" (big payoff/long-shot victory a la WarGames)? Not unless you count Boogie's gambling debt, which God bless it because it's the McGuffin that puts his dick in a box of popcorn, but the payoff there is kind of weak. As we understand it: no.
  • "Wanna have a catch?" (Pavlovian tear-jerk)? No.
  • quote-fest? This is where Diner is a muhfucking Viking. "It's a smile"; "it's Ripley's, I'm telling you"; "the entire left side of the menu and the Maryland! fried! chicken!"; "say the words: 'I want a ride'"; "…Presley"; "that's what I'm talking about, you call that an honest living?"; "cut and fuck, two fifty"; "she'll be twelve" — this is the tip of the iceberg of…the entire movie, which I could probably recite by heart, including Tim Daly's adorably terrible line readings from the depths of a fratty duffel coat.
  • caper-ish or -adjacent camaraderie? Totally. It's about a pack of friends sitting around all night in a diner, talking about girls, music, marriage, life, evolution, and whether Modell is a mooch. …Well, they're not really talking about that; everyone agrees that he is, even him (this is Paul Reiser's best work; watch all the way through the credits to get his VO on the primordial ooze).

It's a low score, a 3 if we really stretch it, but what makes a poppy-fields movie to me is its comfort level, how easily you can drift off in it — and Diner is comforting to me, endlessly rewatchable, the group of friends I substituted, frankly, back in high school for the ones I couldn't seem to make for myself.

The Poppy-Fields Movie Couch Of Fame is here. To nominate your own PFM, email bunting at tomatonation dot com with a rundown of the criteria and your argument for why it deserves a cushion.

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  • I'm sure you left it out because it's an obvious choice, but because someone has to say it:

    "You know what word I'm not comfortable with? Nuance. It's not a real word."

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Sean, hee! It's the name of Reiser's production company, a factoid I've always loved.

  • Kat From Jersey says:

    Nuance! Gesture! Paul Reiser stole this movie, IMO.
    And remember when Mickey Rourke was good-looking and Steve Gutenberg was a star? It's been a while, definitely. This movie is extremely evocative to me, and always puts me in a slightly melancholy mood, but in a really good way.

  • pomme de terre says:

    You know, I'm from Baltimore and I live blocks away from the church where the famous nativity-punching scene was shot, and I've still never seen this one.

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