"Diggers" shows lives at low tide

There are many pleasures to be found in "Diggers," and you don't even have to dig for them. If you spend any time at all watching micro-budget American indie films, you'll instantly compile a list of movies that "Diggers" resembles: "Mystic Pizza," "True Love" or any other dramedy about working-class people living semi-desperate lives in small towns where escape is the best available option.

In other words, you've enjoyed this meal before, but it's tasty enough to consider another serving. And since "Diggers" is set in 1976, just as the Ford/Carter debates are heating up, the movie's press kit openly invites comparison to such blue-collar period classics as "Diner," "The Last Picture Show" and, most appropriately, "Breaking Away." The good news for director Katherine Dieckmann and actor/screenwriter Ken Marino is that those comparisons are reasonably fair, even if "Diggers" falls well short of classic status.

Marino drew from his own family history to tell the low-key tale of four 30-something guys who dig for clams off the southern shore of Long Island, N.Y. It's a dead-end job and they know it — a corporate fishery has taken over their once-thriving territory — but they struggle along with a diminishing harvest.

Hunt, played by Paul Rudd, finds his father in his clamming boat, dead from an apparent heart attack; his penchant for snapping still-life Polaroids suggests an artistic talent he's been casually neglecting. While he temporarily connects with a visiting Manhattanite (Lauren Ambrose), his divorced sister Gina ("ER's" Maura Tierney) reads "The Hite Report" and calls on Hunt's lothario buddy Jack (Ron Eldard) for afternoon quickies.

With an expensive batch of kids and a pregnant wife (Sarah Paulson), Frankie (Marino, from the acclaimed comedy troupe The State) counts every penny, forced to consider working for the corporate invaders he reviles. And when Cons (Josh Hamilton) is not digging for clams in his birthday suit, he's an intelligent, book-reading doper who philosophically takes life a day at a time.

Nothing new here, in the grand scheme of things, but as Dieckmann works little wonders with her terrific ensemble cast, "Diggers" stays true to itself and its characters with tenacious humor and well-observed nuances of everyday behavior. This careful attention to detail extends to well-selected soundtrack songs that subtly evoke a working-class perspective on America's bicentennial.

Add it all up, and there's every reason to believe that Dieckmann and Marino have even better films ahead of them.

Jeff Shannon: j.sh@verizon.net

Movie review 3 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Diggers," with Paul Rudd, Maura Tierney, Ron Eldard, Josh Hamilton, Ken Marino, Sarah Paulson, Lauren Ambrose. Directed by Katherine Dieckmann, from a screenplay by Marino.

90 minutes. Rated R for language, drug use and some sexual content.