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Movie Review: Diggers

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I watched Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown, a film about a corporate failure who discovers himself in the wake of his father’s death, the same day I watched Diggers, a film about a New York clam digger in the 1970s who discovers himself in the wake of his father’s death.

Given the epic failure of Elizabethtown, there’s little praise in saying that Diggers is a better film. With Crowe’s history, however, it is a compliment, a big one in fact, to say that Diggers achieves the humor and honesty the Crowe film should have achieved. Even more substantial, Diggers nearly does it with every one of the film’s characters.

Paul Rudd stars as the film’s main character, Hunt, an unmotivated, thirty-something clam digger. Instead of joining his father for the usual morning dig, Hunt sleeps in. He does finally make it out on the water, after breakfast and coffee, but discovers his father’s empty boat.

The death of Hunt’s father is a milestone for Hunt and the other thirty-somethings on the island. The old man dies just as a corporate fishery begins to lease the waters and restricts the fishing for the private diggers. That means making tough choices that they have never made before and aren’t quite sure how to handle.

Did I mention that Diggers is a comedy? Starring alongside Rudd is the film’s writer Ken Marino, who has had a long career as a comedic actor. He has performed in comedies with Rudd and another Diggers star Ron Eldard before. What makes Diggers different than his other work is the semi-autobiographical nature of the film. This son of a Long Island clam digger has created an ode to a time, an occupation and, likely, a father that is strikingly sincere.

There are small, charming moments of humor in the film, which is only natural with the comedic pedigree of the stars. Diggers, however, stays true to the emotional story of men in transition.

The serious comedians help. Rudd can be credited with exhibiting a subtle restraint that goes beyond his usual charm. But it is Marino whose role as a father of seven (well, almost seven) who must fight to feed his family that carries an unexpected poignancy. I never really followed Marino’s career before this film came out, but his work as a writer and a star here makes me know it’s time to take notice. Likewise, Katherine Dieckmann’s lyrical direction ensures that her days as a music video and television director have progressed into something unexpected, but noteworthy.

Diggers is a day-and-date release, meaning the film will be in theaters and on TV (HDNet Movies) on the same day (April 27) and available on DVD the following Tuesday (May 1). Diggers certainly deserves a bigger audience than it is going to get with day-and-date, but for those of us in piddling little burgs with access to high-def channels, it’s a chance to see a film we wouldn’t even likely know existed otherwise.

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About Daniel J. Stasiewski