'Where is the jawbone of an ass?' ponders young Ben Kurtzman (Foster). 'You mean there's an animal called an ass?!' We are in Baltimore, 1954. Writer/director Levinson set Diner here, Tin Men and Avalon, a series distinguished by a choice strain of comic exasperation at girls, cars and smorgasbord and an underlying sadness at the on-rush of modernity which you might call pop-Proustian. It's a rich, personal tapestry he's weaving, film by film. This droll and sometimes delectable film is, however, exactly how it seems: like the edges of an expansive, but rather flat and loose threaded tapestry. Ben reaches puberty and comes to the alarming realisation that the world is not universally Jewish; meanwhile brother Van (Brody) sets his cap at a Gentile Cinderella several leagues out of his class. Their pop (Mantegna) is being put out of the burlesque business by the arrival of TV, and gets mixed up in the numbers racket. About an hour in, the movie stirs itself to muster some sort of drama, but then it all dies away again before anything too drastic happens. Lovingly recreated with some delicious comic scenes, this is a warm, soft, picture going nowhere.
Cast and crew