Love and Diane

"Excellent"

Love and Diane Review


Love and Diane, Jennifer Dworkin's astonishing documentary about a former crack addict's attempts to reunite her family, may be the most captivating film experience of the year. Tender and poignantly insightful, the film is a blessing for those who've found the most recent batch of documentaries either sweetly superficial (Winged Migration, Spellbound) or overbearingly narcissistic (Bowling for Columbine); that these lesser documentaries should even be mentioned in the same breath as Dworkin's film is itself something of a crime against this first-time director's absorbing masterpiece. At a swift 155 minutes, Love and Diane submerges us so deeply in the plight of its titular matriarch Diane Hazzard - who is endeavoring to reconnect with the children she lost to foster care six years earlier as a result of her drug-induced neglect - that one feels like it would be perfectly natural to walk up to her on the street and give her an affectionate hug. Dworkin makes us a part of this fractured family, and it is to her credit that she does so not with sermonizing meant to engender our sympathy, but through the unadorned intimacy of her camera's inquisitive eye.

The director spent years following Diane and her brood around Brooklyn, and the film's casual narrative encompasses two and a half years of the household's troubled existence. Diane has brought her five living children back under one roof - her eldest son Charles, with three years of college under his belt, committed suicide after finding his mother's habit and the chaotic home life that arose from it too much to bear - but has discovered that she hardly knows them. This is particularly the case with her 18-year-old daughter Love, who is HIV-positive and mother to a baby boy named Donyaeh, also infected with the disease. Love's years in foster and group homes have turned her into an angry, petulant child, desperate for love and comfort but quick to shut out the world when things seem too overwhelming. As a result of her baby's HIV status, Love is able to get a subsidy for public housing, allowing Diane and the kids to move into a larger apartment in Flatbush, and for a time it seems to Diane that life has finally gained some semblance of hope and normalcy. But Love's mothering skills are in short supply, and Diane's frustrations regarding her daughter's maternal negligence spill out during a therapy session. Soon, the cops have arrived to take Donyaeh into foster care custody while Love is charged with parental neglect, thus throwing not only the mother-daughter relationship into disarray, but also the family's housing situation.

That Love is perpetuating a cycle of abandonment - not only did Diane desert her kids, but she was raised by grandparents after her mother drank herself to death- is painfully obvious even to those enmeshed in this hellish pattern. Love is forced to navigate through the very foster care system she has loathed and resented for much of her life, meeting with lawyers, social workers, and therapists in an effort to get Donyaeh back from the boy's foster mother (a Hispanic woman who effusively dotes on the adorable tyke), and the film makes clear that this unwieldy social system frequently gives people like Love few opportunities to better their lot. Diane has been on welfare since the birth of her first child at 16 - in one of many candid moments, Diane (like Love later on) admits to having children because she thought they would bring her the affection she never had as a child - and she displays a sincere desire to take control of her life, dreaming of working as an office secretary. But as Love continues to skip the therapy appointments that are a vital means of proving to the court that her anger and depression have subsided, and as Diane begins to lose her grip on home and brood (including second son Willie, who has chosen to live a life of thievery on the streets), the tenuous stability of Diane and Love's relationship with each other begins to crumble, with Love's searing anger over her mother's failures a bridge not easily mended.

Dworkin's film benefits from the decision to intercut traditional on-the-spot footage of the family's daily life with more impressionistic black-and-white interludes of the city's landscape featuring voice-over interviews with Love and Diane, providing us with candid and perceptive first-person perspectives on the events unfolding onscreen. The director was given total access to their lives, and her nearly invisible camera repeatedly captures scraggly, unadulterated beauty in casual activities - Love and her boyfriend cheering on a dancing Donyaeh, Diane putting the final decorative touches on her new apartment. Dworkin's film is overflowing with empathy even as it refuses to shy away from the women's failings. Love is, and may continue to be, a sub-par mother, and Diane may not be ready or able to completely heal the rift between herself and her children. But if these two battered woman can continue to show each other just a small measure of the compassion, kindness, and respect that Dworkin exhibits for her subjects in the heartfelt, masterful Love and Diane, I have hope that they'll be able to overcome any obstacle in their path.



Love and Diane

Facts and Figures

Run time: 155 mins

In Theaters: Tuesday 8th October 2002

Distributed by: Women Make Movies

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Fresh: 29 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 7.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Herself, Donyaeh Hazzard as Himself, Love Hazzard as Herself

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