When I was a humble textbook editor, I had a colleague who grew tired of seeing chapters from national and state history texts that were titled, for example, “Indiana Grows and Changes.” His complaint was valid, that states and the U.S. in general are always changing.
The world is changing around us, and there’s no evidence that we’re undergoing more or less changes than those going on in the 1970s. However, the changes we face today are different than those faced thirty years ago.
Katherine Dieckmann’s latest film “Diggers” is about the changes the country was facing in the mid-1970s. Looking at the film with a wider lens, we’ll see that the movie is about change in general and how we deal with these changes in our own life. By setting the story in the past, there’s a distance that makes our introspection a little more comfortable.
“Diggers” takes place in 1976 in a small town on Long Island. The nation is changing, recovering from Vietnam and facing an uncertain presidential election with uninspiring candidates. The town is changing as well. The once ripe economy has crumbled after many of the clam diggers are pushed out of the better waters by a large fishing corporation.
A handful of diggers are still trying to make a living. The main focus of the story is on Hunt (Paul Rudd), who has been fishing with his father for years. When his father suddenly passes away alone on his boat, Hunt is forced to re-examine his life and desires to stay in town.
Meanwhile, Hunt’s sister Gina (Maura Tierney) is dealing with a recent divorce and a sexual reawakening, and his buddy Lozo (Ken Marino) is trying to raise five children with the fruitful waters shrinking under the yoke of the South Shell corporation.
To appreciate a film like “Diggers,” you have to like its style. It’s not a plot-driven piece, but rather an examination of characters and how they are forced to come of age long after they should have. It’s a film about change, not just in the local economy or our political system, but in the characters themselves. The message is clear, sometimes you change on your own, but more often, the world forces you to change.
And ultimately, change is good.
The strength of this movie is in the acting. Rudd plays off his comic type well, and he’s supported by the lovely but accessible Maura Tierney. Ken Marino, who also wrote the screenplay, turns in a fine dramatic performance, showing us that he’s not just all about comedy.
I’ve never been a huge fan of talky character pieces, so “Diggers” didn’t touch me as deep as it might others. However, it did keep my interest through most of the film, even though not a lot happens while people are waiting around to change.