324 – Live Read: Diner

live read diner

It’s the second Live Read of the season, and creator/director Jason Reitman went in a different direction with his presentation of Barry Levinson’s Diner screenplay. Instead of curating a group of disparate actors, Reitman instead chose to select a group of performers with plenty of experience acting alongside one another: the cast of FX’s The League.

It is a really smart decision on Reitman’s part. When I watched Diner for the first time at the end of October, I was struck by Levinson’s ability to capture the ennui and uncertainty of quarter-life. I guess I am officially in my mid-twenties now – no more saying “early twenties” for me – but I still felt a certain amount of self-identification with the characters in the film, despite it being set in the late 50’s. The five main characters, portrayed by Mickey Rourke, Steve Guttenberg, Tim Daly, Daniel Stern, and Kevin Bacon, are all coming to terms with the realities of the world, and with the the realities of their respective places within it. That’s heavy stuff, but the movie manages to stay light thanks to the comraderie between the boys and the banter that comes with that.

The cast members from The League are no stranger to banter. The show – about the daily interplay between the members of a fantasy football league – is built entirely on character interaction. To a fault. Since the first few seasons the show has become overly reliant on masturbatory callbacks and crass, low-brow fart and sex jokes. The show still holds merit, however, as a showcase for some incredibly talented comedic actors.

Tonight’s Live Read was a similar showcase. Almost every major actor from the show was in attendance. The parts were as follows:

Nick Kroll as Bacon’s Fenwick
Jason Mantzoukas as Paul Reiser’s Modell
Paul Scheer as Stern’s Shrevie
Mark Duplass as Rourke’s Boogie
Steve Rannazzisi as Guttenberg’s Eddie
Katie Aselton as Ellen Barkin’s Beth
Nadine Velazquez as Kathryn Dowling’s Barbara
Rob Huebel as Daly’s Billy

The main takeaway from the evening was how much of the magic of Diner comes from Levinson’s direction and the dynamic back-and-forth between the actors on the screen. It’s not that the actors on stage were bad – Mantzoukas and Rennazzisi do an excellent recreation of the roast beef sandwich scene – but the script itself is nothing too special.

Take for instance, the character of Fenwick. On the page he is a kind of a drunk douche, and Kroll plays him appropriately from that perspective. But then you look at Bacon’s performance and see all of the roiling pathos and general dissatisfaction that the original actor brought to the role. Kroll’s is a totally different take, with a little less “oomph.”

Still, there’s no such thing as a bad Live Read, and this one was no exception. For every disappointment in the script, the actors found a way to make it work, whether it be through Mantzoukas’s wonderfully exaggerated Paul Reiser impression or Scheer’s commitment to every character – even those with only one or two lines.

Diner is a movie about five young men figuring out where they belong in the world. Everything wraps up a bit too nicely for some of them, but others are left in a vague limbo. And the future is still uncertain for every last one of them. After a couple stinkers, Reitman’s future is “up in the air” as well (get it?), so maybe he feels a connection to Levinson’s script in that way. I do too, but being able to attend events like this help to make that aimlessness more bearable.

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