Starring Vanessa Redgrave, Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Patrick Wilson, Hugh Dancy, Natasha Richardson, Glenn Close, Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Barry Bostwick and Eileen Atkins.
Screenplay by Susan Minot and Michael Cunningham.
Directed by Lajos Koltai.
Distributed by Focus Features. 117 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Evening wears its quality pedigree like a tiara on its stately and well-coiffured head. This is a film that looks and feels sumptuously beautiful, has a cast stuffed with some of the great actresses in film (and a few terrific upcoming male actors as well.) It’s source material, Susan Minot’s beloved 1997 novel of the same name, also loans its gravitas to the production.
Yet, sometimes the tiara seems to slip. It doesn’t seem to be a totally good fit.
The writing, by Minot and The Hours author Michael Cunningham, is an awkward mix of extremely good parts and sometimes disturbingly predictable ones. (I was able to guess the next line of dialogue in the film at least three or four times during the course of the film, which is never a good sign).
Too bad, because it starts off on a very intriguing note. Evening revolves around Ann (Vanessa Redgrave), an elderly woman on her deathbed. While her daughters (Toni Collette and Redgrave’s own daughter Natasha Richardson) watch, the mother starts muttering about a man named Harris – a name which they had never heard before – and how she and Harris had killed someone named Buddy. The daughters don’t know if this is real or just the fever dreams of someone slipping away. Even her nurse (Dame Eileen Atkins) acknowledges they will never know for sure how much of what Ann is saying is memory and how much is imagination.
Here the film flashes back to the past (it will flip back and forth between 1953 and the present from here on, with a few short side trips to other points in Ann’s life) and we watch as the story plays out. Young Ann (played in the past by Claire Danes) is a bohemian singer who is in Newport, Rhode Island for the wedding of her college roommate and best friend Lila (Mamie Gummer – the daughter of Meryl Streep.)
Ann feels out of place at this society wedding, as does Buddy (Hugh Dancy), the alcoholic brother of Lila. Through Buddy, she meets Harris (Patrick Wilson), the former servant’s son who has become a small town doctor.
Thus begins a love rectangle which plays out through the film. Despite the fact that she is about to wed, Lila has been in love with Harris since she was a girl. Buddy is harboring a huge crush on Ann. Both siblings are distraught to see that Ann and Harris seem to be hitting it off. There are even a few brief hints that Buddy may be suppressing an attraction to Harris.
With all of these elements, Evening does have quite a few moments of great beauty and insight. Sadly, too many of these point in less-than-intriguing directions.
When Lila as an older woman (played by Streep) shows up for a reunion with her old friend on her deathbed, there is a devastating display of acting. However Streep’s final realization – that everything in one’s past which once seemed so vitally important turns out to be rather meaningless in the big picture – while quite profound, sort of diminishes the importance of everything which has occurred before.
In a lot of ways, Evening is a little bit of a disappointment, but with the amazing acting, sumptuous visuals and good source material it is a flawed enterprise that is definitely worth seeing. (6/07)
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 24, 2007.