Mary Kay Place is one those character actors whom everybody recognizes, but most of us are we’re not quite sure from where — a TV regular (Imposters), her film career has taken her from Private Benjamin and The Big Chill to a voiceover role in 2017’s Downsizing. Her ubiquitous obscurity is part of the fabric of Diane, the story of a small-town woman who never stops helping other people.
When she isn’t busy swapping casseroles with neighbors, visiting sick friends in the hospital, or volunteering at the homeless shelter, Diane (Place, in a career-best performance) does laundry and cooks meals for her drug-addicted adult son (Jake Lacy), who treats her like a disease. The rest of the time she sits around with the other old folks grumbling about robocalls. Diane is the official Ms. Un-Deplorable, the Boomer Mother Courage, the soul of Middle America, the one everyone is trying to figure out. Writer-director Kent Jones (Hitchcock/Truffaut) seems to know her intimately.
There is no romance waiting in the wings for Diane. No long-lost millionaire boyfriend. No winning lottery ticket or local TV news segment. This role is better played by Place than by, say, Julia Roberts or Glenn Close, not that Place is a better actor but because her Diane can argue with another volunteer about how many helpings of dinner a homeless man wants, and make us believe it. Her empathy rings true, and so does Diane.