Mark Reviews Movies


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Lajos Koltai

Cast: Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Vanessa Redgrave, Patrick Wilson, Hugh Dancy, Natasha Richardson, Mamie Gummer, Eileen Atkins, Glenn Close, Meryl Streep

MPAA Rating: PG-13  (for some thematic elements, sexual material, a brief accident scene and language)

Running Time: 1:57

Release Date: 6/29/07

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Review by Mark Dujsik

It's quite an achievement to get such a group of esteemed actresses together for something of such little consequence. Evening features Toni Collette, Vanessa Redgrave, Glen Close, Eileen Atkins, Natasha Richardson, and Claire Danes doing their best to out-act a script that gives them no viable characters. Even Meryl Streep shows up in a special guest appearance near the end, with her daughter Mamie Gummer playing the same character at a younger age (Redgrave and Richardson, the other mother-daughter team here, actually play mother and daughter). Beyond all the talent on display, the movie itself is pure melodrama attempting to be a very character-specific rumination on the nature of something important. What that important thing is, I'm not so sure, since the movie spends so much time on generic scenes of people having problems and not enough illuminating those people, the heavily generalized thematic implications carry no weight. The movie seems to be about regret and love and other vague concepts that could be emotionally relevant, but since it wants to be specific about its characters without bothering to develop them and doesn't want to muster up histrionics, Evening ends up heavy on the mellow, low on the drama.

The movie opens with an eye-catching, dreamy image, as the camera cranes down from fireflies against sky to a woman standing on a rocky shore, a boat floating in the water. Turns out it is a dream, and Ann Grant Lord (Redgrave) is on her deathbed, wondering out loud, "Where's Harris?" Her daughters Nina (Collette) and Constance (Richardson) are there, as Ann continues to ask about Harris and reveals that she and the mysterious man killed someone named Buddy. Harris, Ann tells her daughters, was her great love and first mistake. As Ann lies in bed, she remembers her younger self (Danes) at her friend Lila's (Gummer) wedding. Lila's brother Buddy (Hugh Dancy) doesn't like her intended and instead thinks she should marry Harris (Patrick Wilson), their former servant's son. Young Ann and Harris occasionally flirt, Buddy flirts with Ann, and nobody's going to be happy by the time the wedding's over. Meanwhile in present, Ann continues to regret her past, Nina and Constance fight over which one of them is pathetic like their mother, and Nina tells her boyfriend (Ebon Moss-Bachrach, making the daring decision to not act) she's going to be neurotic for a while.

The movie is all buildup to an underwhelming climax, and one-note characters dominate the inaction. The story is chock full of potentially juicy bits, like the love square in the past between Ann, Harris, Lila, and Buddy, Nina's revelation that she's pregnant, and the present Ann's bouts of demented dreaming involving her night nurse/guardian angel Mrs. Brown (Atkins). You'd think the romance between young Ann and Harris might have some kind of passion, given that he's her great love and first mistake, but even that relationship is so subdued and underdeveloped, they're only alone together a few times. When they are together, it's the usual: Harris names a star after her and steals a kiss. Actually, Harris is a bit of a cad. He rejects Lila's advances, and then, at the wedding reception, breaks in on Ann's song—the one Lila requested her friend sing—basically shoving his attraction to Ann in the poor, rejected bride's face. Ann's not much better. Buddy—poor Buddy—is confused. He seems to love Harris, too, but he definitely loves Ann, which he flat out tells her the night of the reception. Ann rejects his declaration of his feelings in a most unkind way, taunting the guy with his confusion about Harris.

They might be unlikable folks, but the movie's problem lies in the fact that we don't know them. It wants us to sympathize with Ann, lying in her deathbed, regretting this relationship that never seems the great love story she makes it out to be. It wants us to understand these characters and their predicaments and apparently how the story of Ann and Harris mirrors the things going on in her daughters' lives. In other words, it wants to be specific to these people and very rarely succeeds. A few scenes have the ring of truth to them. Nina discusses her pregnancy with her mother. The grown-up Lila (Streep) visits her old friend, and when they're not bothering talking about Harris, there's a fine sense of ruminating the past. These scenes are nice but few and far between. Instead, Susan Minot and Michael Cunningham's script (based on Minot's novel) give us generic fights between sisters, stilted repetitions of the conflict between almost-lovers and never-will-be lovers in the past, and a one-note cry of regret from the older Ann that has no emotional foundation for us to attach.

All of this is too restrained to work as melodrama, though, and the movie really suffers there. It can't even manage a generic emotional connection to the entire scenario. The actresses do what they can, but Evening wants us to take too much from the little it gives.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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