Movie Review: Diggers
FILM REVIEW: DIGGERS
By Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
It may have had to do with the reportedly mellow quality of the alleged marijuana back then, the kind that is smoked with some regularity in the new film "Diggers." But in the 1970s it wasn't hard to find on your local movie screen the occasional genial ensemble piece more interested in character and atmosphere than in driving home a story. Can you imagine "Blume in Love's" Paul Mazursky's work finding financing and wide distribution today, or an offhanded charmer such as Joan Micklin Silver's "Between the Lines" making it to early 21st Century market, even under Mark Cuban's low-budget Magnolia Pictures banner? Just barely.
Set in late summer 1976 on Long Island's south shore, "Diggers" pays easygoing tribute to its time and place. A lot of the details feel right, from the family Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser with the kids in back to the Schlitz empties all over the place, and the southern tilt of the handlebar moustaches. In the background, TV sets fill the bicentennial air with talk of post-Watergate hope and renewal. Meanwhile, the local working men in Ken Marino's uneven script, clamdiggers by trade, find themselves up against a corporate digging operation, South Shell, which has roped off a lot of the prime clam territory for itself.
Screenwriter Marino plays one of the more outsized characters in "Diggers," an overwhelmed and out-of-work father with a bad temper but a surprisingly hardy marriage. He's the friend of a digger named Hunt (Paul Rudd) who does some photography on the side. Hunt's divorced sister (Maura Tierney), first seen in her waitressing garb behind the counter reading (BEGIN ITALICS) The Hite Report (END ITALICS), is having an affair with Hunt's pal Jack (Ron Eldard). Hunt has his own late-summer fling with a New York City woman, Zoe ( Ambrose), who regards her townie in a different way than Hunt regards her.
This is the second feature from director Katherine Dieckmann, following "A Good Baby" seven years ago. She has talent and a way with actors. Marino may yet develop as a writer; for now, he's more persuasive and wittier on camera. The best thing in "Diggers," besides the close-up of the back end of the Vista Cruiser (we had one when I was in high school), is the interplay between Rudd and Tierney. They really do seem like brother and sister, adults yet not entirely grown up, and even though the script forces a lot of the comedy, the best actors have a way of un-forcing it on screen.
Directed by Katherine Dieckmann; screenplay by Ken Marino; photographed by Michael McDonough; edited by Malcolm Jamieson and Sabine Hoffman; production design by Roshelle Berliner; produced by Anne Chaisson, Jason Kliot, Joana Vicente and Ken Marino. A Magnolia Pictures release; opens Friday at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St. Running time: 1:30. MPAA rating: R (for language, drug use and some sexual content).
Hunt - Paul Rudd
Zoey - Lauren Ambrose
Jack - Ron Eldard
Cons - Josh Hamilton
Gina - Maura Tierney