Diner (1982 film)

Diner is a 1982 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Barry Levinson. It is Levinson's screen-directing debut, and the first of his "Baltimore Films" tetralogy, set in his hometown during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s; the other films in the tetralogy are Tin Men (1987), Avalon (1990), and Liberty Heights (1999).[4] It stars Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Paul Reiser, Kevin Bacon, Timothy Daly and Ellen Barkin and was released on March 5, 1982. The film follows a close-knit circle of friends who reunite at a Baltimore diner when one of them prepares to get married.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byBarry Levinson
Produced byJerry Weintraub
Written byBarry Levinson
Music by
CinematographyPeter Sova
Edited byStu Linder
Distributed byMGM/UA Entertainment Company
Release date
  • March 2, 1982 (1982-03-02)
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$5 million[1][2]
Box office$14.1 million[3]


In 1959 Baltimore, friends Modell, Eddie, Shrevie, Boogie, and Fenwick attend a Christmas dance before driving to their usual late-night haunt, Fell’s Point Diner. On the way, Fenwick stages a fake car accident, to his friends' annoyance. Boogie, a hairdresser and law student, has laid a $2,000 bet on a basketball game, and declines his family friend Bagel’s offer to call off the bet. Modell accepts a ride home from Eddie while the others pick up another friend, Billy, who is in town to serve as Eddie’s best man for his wedding on New Year’s Eve.

The next morning, Billy reunites with Eddie at his mother’s house, and they visit their old pool hall. Shrevie, married to Beth and working as an appliance store salesman, learns from Fenwick that Boogie is taking a date to the movies. At a screening of A Summer Place, with his friends watching, Boogie tricks his date, Carol, into groping him through the popcorn box on his lap. She runs from the theater, but the smooth-talking Boogie convinces her it was an accident and their date continues; afterward, Billy punches an old high school enemy.

Billy visits Barbara, a friend working at the local TV station. At the diner, Shrevie discusses married life with Eddie, who is preparing a test of football knowledge for his fiancée Elyse, to determine if they will marry. Having lost his basketball bet, Boogie wagers with his friends that he can have sex with Carol. The group parts ways in the morning, and Boogie and Fenwick encounter an equestrienne named Jane. Meeting Barbara at church, Billy learns she is pregnant, the result of an unexpected night they spent together; she tries to dissuade him from feeling obligated to marry her.

Watching College Bowl, Fenwick is surprisingly knowledgeable, and offers to help pay Boogie’s debt. Shrevie loses his temper at Beth for disturbing his record collection, and storms out. Boogie consoles Beth, and Fenwick goes to his brother, who refuses to lend him money. Shrevie pulls Eddie and Billie from a screening of The Seventh Seal to corral Fenwick, who has drunkenly occupied the church’s Nativity scene in his underwear, leading to the friends' arrest.

In the holding cells, Eddie reveals that Elyse will take his test the following night, and Billy faces down a belligerent drunk. Eddie, Shrevie, and Billy are bailed out by their fathers, but Fenwick’s father leaves him in jail. They meet Boogie at the diner, and he deduces that Eddie is still a virgin, while Billy and Barbara discuss their predicament at the TV station. A lonely Beth visits Boogie at the hair salon, and he is threatened by his bookie, Tank. Learning Carol has the flu, which jeopardizes his bet, Boogie reminisces with Beth about their own past relationship, and they make plans for a tryst while everyone is busy with Elyse’s test.

Shrevie, Fenwick, Billy, and Modell, along with Eddie’s and Elyse’s parents, await the results of the football test: Elyse fails by two points, and Eddie calls off the wedding. Boogie brings Beth a wig, secretly planning to disguise her as Carol to win the bet, and drives her to Fenwick’s apartment. There, Fenwick and Shrevie hide in the closet to verify the encounter, but Boogie tells Beth the truth, urging her to work things out with Shrevie. Eddie and Billy visit a strip club, and Boogie arrives at the diner, where Shrevie and Fenwick warn him Tank is waiting. Boogie is ready to accept the consequences, but Tank reveals that Bagel has paid off the debt.

Billy commandeers a piano to lead the entire strip club in a rousing number, to Eddie’s delight. At the diner, Eddie decides to marry Elyse after all, and Billy assures Barbara he genuinely loves her. The wedding proceeds, themed around Eddie’s beloved Baltimore Colts: Shrevie and Beth reconcile; Boogie, Billy, and Fenwick bring Jane, Barbara, and Diane; and Modell delivers a heartfelt speech. The movie ends as the bouquet is tossed, landing on the friends' table.


This was the first credited feature film role for Tim Daly, Ellen Barkin and Paul Reiser.



The semi-autobiographical film explores the changing relationships among these friends as they become adults through what is mostly a series of vignettes rather than a traditional narrative. Levinson encouraged improvisation among his cast to capture realistic camaraderie.

During postproduction, an executive, David Chasman, wanted to cut the scene about an unfinished roast-beef sandwich because it didn’t advance the story, but Levinson explained the roast beef was the story, telling audiences all they need to know about their friendship, their competitiveness and their fears.[2]

Executive producer Mark Johnson, obtained a print without MGM’s knowledge and screened it privately for critics Pauline Kael and James Wolcott. Kael made it clear she was going to write a rave review even if MGM did not release the film, and that other critics planned to do the same.[2][6]


The film inspired a 1983 television pilot written and directed by Levinson. Mike Binder starred as Eddie, Paul Reiser returned as Modell, Michael Madsen took over as Boogie and James Spader was Fenwick.

Stage adaptationEdit

A stage musical, with the book by Levinson and music by Sheryl Crow originally opened in Autumn 2013. Kathleen Marshall was the director and choreographer. A “creative workshop” reading was held in December 2011, directed by Kathleen Marshall. The musical opened at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia in December 2014 through January 2015, with direction and choreography by Kathleen Marshall.[7] Crow said: “And to think we are going to premiere it so close to Baltimore, where the story took place, at Signature Theatre, which has birthed so many new musicals, well, I couldn’t be happier.”[8] The cast for the Signature premiere included Matthew James Thomas as Fenwick and Derek Klena as Boogie.[9] The musical was presented at the Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington, Delaware from December 2, 2015 (previews) through December 27, with Matthew James Thomas as Fenwick, Derek Klena as Boogie, Noah Weisberg as Shrevie and Brynn O’Malley as Barbara.[10][11][12]


Critical responseEdit

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 93% based on reviews from 40 critics. The website's critics consensus states: "Diner transports audiences back to the 1950s with a refreshing lack of sentimentality, evoking the thrill of everyday life with its ensemble's potent chemistry and an authentic sense of spontaneity."[13] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 82% based on reviews from 15 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[14]

Pauline Kael of The New Yorker called it "A wonderful movie…It isn't remarkable visually, but features some of the best young actors in the country."[14][better source needed][2]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, writing: "Diner is often a very funny movie, although I laughed most freely not at the sexual pranks but at the movie's accurate ear, as it reproduced dialogue with great comic accuracy."[15]Variety wrote: "Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Paul Reiser and Timothy Daly are terrific as the friends as are Ellen Barkin and Kathryn Dowling as the two females involved with different group members."[16]

Author Nick Hornby called the film "a work of great genius."[2] John Wells, executive producer for the TV series E.R., estimated he saw the film 30 times in 1982 alone, and he makes a point to watch the film every year.[2]


Levinson received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. ^ "Diner (1982) - Financial Information". The Numbers (website). Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Price, S. L. (February 10, 2012). "Much Ado About Nothing". Vanity Fair. Retrieved April 7, 2019.
  3. ^ "Diner (1982)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  4. ^ Levinson, Barry (November 14, 1999). "Barry Levinson: Baltimore, My Baltimore". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Evan Serpick (April 1, 2012). "Diner: An Oral History". Baltimore Magazine.
  6. ^ Benenson, Laurie Halpern (April 11, 1993). "FILM; Time Drags and Rumors Fly When Movies Sit on the Shelf (Published 1993)". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 9, 2020. M-G-M almost shelved Barry Levinson’s 1982 film Diner after it tested poorly. It didn’t open in Manhattan until Pauline Kael saw it and gave it a rave review in The New Yorker.
  7. ^ Staff. "The Verdict: Read Reviews of Sheryl Crow Musical 'Diner'" Playbill, December 29, 2014
  8. ^ Gioia, Michael. "Signature's 25th Season Will Include Sheryl Crow's 'Diner', World Premieres from John Kander, Nick Blaemire and More" Archived 2014-03-19 at the Wayback Machine playbill.com, March 18, 2014
  9. ^ "Signature Theatre Announces Cast for Sheryl Crows 'Diner'" broadwayworld.com, 2014
  10. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Exclusive: Latest Incarnation of Sheryl Crow Musical 'Diner' Will Star Derek Klena, Matthew James Thomas and Noah Weisberg" Playbill, November 6, 2015
  11. ^ Simoes, Monica. "Onstage Pics! Delaware Theatre Company Serves Up the New Sheryl Crow Musical 'Diner'" playbill.com, December 10, 2015
  12. ^ Marks, Peters. "‘Diner’: Improved, but it still needs more oomph" ‘’Washington Post’’, December 15, 2015
  13. ^ "Diner (1982)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 1, 2020.
  14. ^ a b "Diner". Metacritic. Retrieved October 1, 2020.
  15. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1982). "Diner movie review & film summary (1982)". Chicago Sun-Times.    
  16. ^ Variety Staff (January 1, 1982). "Diner". Variety (magazine).
  17. ^ "AFI's 100 Years…100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved August 6, 2016.

External linksEdit