26 January 2010 | jpschapira
What we need
You feel it. It's rarely that this is an opening statement we can make about a movie. In the case of Katherine Dieckmann's "Diggers", everyone and everything is so transparent, so joyfully alive and in pain at the same time that you can't help but feeling it. The film begins with a death and a funeral...yes, I know, typical, and it hurts even more to say that it happens in the very small Long Island. However, none of the two contrivances are what you'd expect.
Hunt (Paul Rudd), a clam digger, is going to the river so he can make peace with his father (also a clam digger), who shipped out earlier than him and is waiting. He stops by her sister Gina's (Maura Tierney), to get the coffee their dad likes: "Black, three sugar", a nice family detail. When Hunt gets near his dad's boat, he has fallen on the water. His heart stopped. The old man's funeral is not the event itself, but how Hunt's friends (all clam diggers) get to it so we can get to know them: Cons (Josh Hamilton), a drug user who's always complaining about the world and also admiring it; Jack (Ron Eldard), a womanizer who seemingly cares about nothing; and Lozo (Ken Marino), his wife Julie (the beautiful Sarah Paulson) and their kids, a movie family to remember.
There's a beautiful moment, the film's finest moment, which is -not by chance- in the poster. Hunt, Jack and Conso are smoking outside the funeral home in a perfectly composed shot, and some seconds later Lozo comes out the door and joins them to form a beautiful image that we admire to the sound of a gaita. It's funeral music, but the funeral is long over. These people have other issues to deal with: life, work, the threat of a big company, the constant illusion of something mildly better that doesn't betray their ideals. Traditional clam diggers like them would never sell out to a major company.
Between what they hide and what they know (about their lives and about life in general), between what they like and what they don't (love stories, old and new), between what they should and shouldn't do, or what they must do because there's no other way; in a fine line between the promises people make to themselves and the things they settle for, wanders this tale of wanderers. Ken Marino wrote a brilliant, flawed script that asks a lot of questions and makes the viewer ask some more. A developed character piece that ends up in a climax that might be too big for a small place, but nothing makes it less poignant.
Once you've met the characters, you can't leave them behind. You feel it: the need for an answer (like, why do we hurt each other so much?), the solution to the mystery (in another beautiful moment, Hunt stops his boat near Zoey's, a woman he's been watching for weeks..."what are you doing? You broke our silent flirtation", she tells him; and that's a moment of character definition in a perfect performance by Lauren Ambrose), that joy in the midst of the pain.
It says something that Hunt takes lovely photographs, as an amateur; that Gina discovers she wants to live again; that Lozo loves his wife above all things; that Cons is constantly trying to finding a meaning; that Jack may actually mean his love. The performances are splendid, all along, specially Rudd in a role we are not used to see him and proves he can do just about everything and do it right. Marino, who wrote the script and his character, so he understands the 1976 setting feeling enough to create a sympathetic family father that you can love and hate, follows him closely. The roles and performances of Paulson and Tierney are another proof of two immense talents that we don't get to see very often. Eldard and Hamilton: impressive revelations.
We need more of these stories, about feeling. Because Dickmann did a good job with "Diggers", a movie well acted, very well written and developed in every aspect. However, more than anything, very well told. Yes, a lot of well told stories that, if possible, care for characters and understand them, without taking them for granted. And, if it's not much more to ask, no definitive endings. That's what we need