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MiraJeff Digs Into DIGGERS!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. Face it... members of the now-defunct comedy troupe The State are gradually taking over Hollywood and the indie world. Soon, every film will be legally required to employ at least two veterans of The State. There is no use resisting... resistance is futile...

Greetings AICN, MiraJeff here with a look at “Diggers,” the new dramedy written by Ken Marino of “The State” and “Wet Hot American Summer” semi-fame. “Diggers” is a really nice, poignant little slice of blue-collar Long Island life, but unfortunately it covers all-too-familiar ground and fails to separate itself from similarly themed films. Variety called this one ‘“Diner” in wading boots,’ but the film that “Diggers” really made me think of was last year's superior Ed Burns film, “The Groomsmen,” which is a better-executed take on the 30 year-old coming of age film. On the whole, I definitely enjoyed “Diggers.” It’s certainly not a bad film, but that doesn't mean it's not a frustrating one. Paul Rudd stars as Hunt, a clam digger who harbors a softer side as an amateur photographer. Hunt hangs out with pressured family man Lozo (Marino), philosophical pothead Cons (Josh Hamilton) and local ladies man Jack (Ron Eldard). He's also got his sister, Gina (Maura Tierney) to look after. Early in the film, Hunt and Gina's father dies. He has a heart attack while digging on his boat and because Hunt decided to sleep in that morning, there's no one on the water to help him, if in fact, anything could be done to save the poor guy. “Diggers” is primarily about the choices we make and how they affect us, and Hunt spends the majority of the film stuck in a guilt-ridden rut because of the selfish choice he made. Will he find the light in his life and snap out of his funk, or will he die alone like his old man, digging for clams for chump change? A decent enough indie premise, but one rife with narrative and structural problems. For instance, we're not given a single scene showing father and son together. That doesn't mean it's impossible to come to understand their complicated history, but seriously, a single scene might’ve helped. Case in point: “Disturbia.” For all its flaws, “Disturbia” had the good sense to open with a nice fishing scene between the main character and his dad that helps establish their relationship, so that five minutes later, when the dad dies, the audience might actually feel the main character’s grief. Rudd doesn’t sell me on Hunt’s grief. You can imagine that as a man’s man character, Hunt doesn’t really wear his emotions on his sleeve, leaving much of Rudd’s performance internalized. This isn’t Rudd’s fault, and in all honesty, he’s as good here as he’s ever been, but it doesn’t excuse Marino’s flawed screenplay, which has trouble penetrating the surface level of some of its characters. Rather than witness Hunt and his father’s tempestuous relationship, we’re simply told that the guy was a real prick. He didn’t keep any pictures of his daughter and the photographs Hunt took and gave him were discarded into the trash, because, as Hunt recalls his old man saying, “You can’t catch clams with a camera.” Another strained element of the film is the believability of these guys as a tight-knit group of friends, something I can't really give the filmmakers a pass for. They all do pretty much the same thing, except they don't do it together, because everyone has their own boat. I think the first scene where we see the guys all together is at the father's funeral, and they all go outside to smoke and drink and get away from everyone else. It's a really nice, quiet character moment but it isn't totally sold because of their limited interaction up to that point. Everyone seems so self-involved. Lozo has his family to deal with so he's basically cut off from the others. Jack's busy chasing tail, Cons seems to always be in a drug-induced haze and Hunt, well, he's there in Long Island with everyone, but his head is somewhere else. Perhaps the biggest problem with “Diggers” is Zoe, the New York hipster played by Lauren Ambrose, who feels like a character from an entirely different movie. Zoe is a rather obvious device used to open Hunt’s eyes to the possibility of living life outside of his comfort zone of Long Island. She likes his photographs and encourages him to move to the city and take a risk, but of course, she’s not interested in dating him in the city, because she only views him as a summer fling with a local yokel. Ambrose and Rudd don’t necessarily have the best chemistry, and while Zoe is integral to Hunt’s story arc, she’s also a wholly unnecessary character, since the eye-opener she provides could just as easily have come from one of his buddies. The whole film would’ve been tighter if Marino had stolen a page from “Good Will Hunting” and had one of Hunt’s buddies take him aside and ask him, "what the fuck are you still doing here? This digging thing, it's not for you. You did it while your old man was around to make him proud, but now that he's gone, it's time to do what you want to do. Don't worry about your sister. She's a big girl and can take care of herself. Take some time to yourself and pursue your dreams." The revelation that Zoe inspires in Hunt doesn't ring entirely true. As for the performances, they are, for the most part, exceptional. Just because Rudd’s character is less than fully fleshed out, it doesn’t take away from his impressive performance in the least bit. It’s by far the most serious role he’s ever taken on and I’d go out on a limb and call it his best performance ever if he wasn’t such a great comedic actor. Not only does the guy deliver killer zingers in “Knocked Up,” he reunites with “Clueless” director Amy Heckerling and gets naughty with Michelle Pfeiffer in “I Could Never Be Your Woman, plus he narrates “The Ten” and is about to start shooting the Luke Greenfield comedy “Big Brothers” opposite Seann William Scott. Rudd’s super busy right now and for good reason. He’s a proven comedic talent and with “Diggers,” he shows off his versatility and ability to handle drama. Hamilton is a mixed bag here. On one hand, he handles the philosophical half of his character with an juvenile wisdom that accurately reflects his environment and how he fits into the group dynamic, but on the other, he's saddled with a comic relief role that doesn't really give him laugh-out-loud lines. I mean, revealing that you're on acid in the middle of a tense scene will always get you an easy chuckle, but otherwise, there isn't much there to chew on, which is a shame because Hamilton has long been a favorite of mine, from Noah Baumbach's “Kicking and Screaming” to Paul Todisco’s little-known stoner classic “Freak Talks About Sex,” where he played the straight man to Steve Zahn's affable, wise stoner Freak, who is exactly the sort of character I kept wishing Cons was, but alas, isn't. The other review that came in mentioned Jack as the glue that holds the group together. Um, did I miss something? Jack to me, felt like the opposite of glue. He's the one-note pretty boy who sticks out like a sore thumb in this group of friends. Even Hunt acknowledges that his best buddy is an asshole, and they never even seem that tight to begin with. I think the script really mishandled the character, whose problems actually belong to other characters. Seeing as we get next to no insight into Jack, Eldard is reduced to regurgitating his character from “Mystery, Alaska,” and winds up being sufficiently wasted. No matter. He'll always be grown-up John Reilly from “Sleepers” to me. Interestingly enough, as much as “Diggers” is being sold as a guy film, it's directed by Katherine Dieckmann, and perhaps not surprisingly, it's the female characters that feel the most complete. Tierney and Sarah Paulson both do strong work with relatively brief screen time. Tierney has always been an underappreciated talent, from “News Radio” to “Liar Liar” to “Scotland, PA.” Not only is she one of the most attractive actresses her age (think Diane Lane, but attainable), but in “Diggers,” she really sells the brother-sister relationship. Gina and Hunt are both adults who have yet to grow up, and there's a convincing sadness in Tierney's eyes that is truly tragic. When Gina inevitably falls for Jack, she thinks she's different from all the other women he fools around with, but there isn't really much evidence that supports this naive line of thinking. Maybe the point is that somewhere down the line, Gina will figure things out for herself, but by the end of the film, I didn't see any reason to suggest that Gina and Jack will end up happy together. Meanwhile, Paulson comes off particularly impressive, if only because the only work of hers I'm familiar with is on “Studio 60,” where I really don't care for her much. As Lozo's harangued wife, she is constantly overwhelmed by her four children, and the scene where she delivers the news to her husband that she's pregnant yet again is one of film's most successful dramatic moments. There’s a nice tonal shift in her scenes with Marino that dovetails nicely with the rest of the wandering plot. Of course, if there’s one actor you’ll leave “Diggers” thinking about, it’s Marino, who steals nearly every scene he’s in, whether he’s giving himself the funniest lines, enjoying a moment of peace and quiet with his wife, or simmering like a boiler plate as a couple rival diggers taunt him with threats of violence. Marino shows surprising range as an actor and there are times when his screenplay deftly balances poignant drama with character-driven comedy, but there are too many problems with his script for “Diggers” to fully make the impact it hopes to. Dieckmann brings a lyrical softness to the images and does a pretty credible job invoking the nostalgic feel of small-town 70’s, but a running theme about life being imperfect like wood rather than smooth like marble is unfortunately fumbled. Trust me, having given “The Groomsmen” a quote for its print ad campaign, I fully recognize that I was predisposed to enjoy “Diggers,” a film I was the ideal audience member for. However, there’s something missing in its execution, and as it is, the film feels too disjointed, without a single, strong narrative thread to carry us through the drifting story. The end of the film feels decidedly anti-climactic, and since this is a day-and-date release, my recommendation would be to round up a few buddies and check it out on DVD during a lazy Sunday afternoon, because this earnest indie dramedy isn’t quite worth tracking down at your local indie theater and “digging” into your pocket to spend ten bucks on. That’ll do it for me, folks. I’ll be back with reviews of “Paris, Je T’aime” and “The Wendell Baker Story.” As always, questions and comments are welcome. ‘Til next time, this is MiraJeff signing off…
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