EmptyIn "Evening," an all-star team of filmmakers takes on a minor-league story. The cast and crew here include multiple Oscar winners and nominees, a Pulitzer Prize-winning screenwriter, and a director, a much-honored cinematographer who collaborated with a Nobel Prize-winning author no less for his first film. Alas, the thing they all choose to labor over is a thin, overwrought tale of New England bluebloods wallowing in self-perpetuated angst and recriminations. At the end of the movie, everyone decides to get over it. Wow, that's a relief.
The film will gain traction with older women for all the mother-daughter interplay that pushes emotional buttons without ever saying anything significant. A cast of truly impressive actresses spanning the decades -- Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Eileen Atkins, Glenn Close as well as real-life mother-daughters Vanessa Redgrave and Natasha Richardson and Meryl Streep and Mamie Gummer -- will undoubtedly draw a goodly share of the curious as well. Boxoffice for this Focus Feature release should still be modest.
The package is certainly appealing. Budapest-born director Lajos Koltai (the Oscar-nominated Hungarian feature "Fateless") cuts between two visually appealing settings: a high-society wedding on an awesome seacliff home in Newport, R.I., and the final days of the maid of honor from the wedding, a half-century later, in a lovely art and memorabilia-filled Rhode Island residence.
It is in the latter setting that Ann Lord (Redgrave) is dying. She is (barely) comforted by two daughters, a happily situated mother and wife, Constance (Richardson), and her restive sister, Nina (Collette). The flashbacks to the weekend wedding of 50 years earlier -- where all the movie's action is -- take place in the dying woman's mind.
As these events, as fresh as if they were yesterday, churn over in her mind, what they tell her about life and the mistakes people make is meant to hugely impact Nina's current dilemma. Nina is in a shaky three-year-old relationship and, secretly pregnant, is uncertain what to do. But because the daughter can't see the mother's flashbacks or hallucinations, how this message gets across is a mystery.
In her memories, the young Ann (Danes) finds the bride-to-be, Lila Wittenborn (Gummer), in a state. Her engagement is a sham since her true love is longtime family friend and intimate Harris Arden (Patrick Wilson). Within moments, Ann herself falls under Harris' spell. He is destined to become the "man that got away" for both young women.
In her waning moments, it is her obsession with Harris that dominates her thoughts. Harris apparently is a sexual magnet: Before that long-ago weekend concludes, the bride's alcoholic brother and Ann's dear friend, Buddy (Hugh Dancy), makes a pass at her and at Harris!
For some reason, the whole movie and therefore the dying woman's memories focus on that wedding rather than subsequent loves, marriages and daughters. So when she looks back on a life of "waste and failure," you can't judge. What happened afterward in her life is what matters, not that brief fling and a tragic event that forever marred the wedding.
The whole thing is a stacked deck of cards that the director and his writers, Susan Minot and Michael Cunningham ("The Hours"), who adapted Minot's novel, deal with so selectively as to deny us knowledge of essential points about many of the relationships and motives.
Possibly too much has been removed from the source material. Occasional bits of magic realism indicate other means of attack in the novel: Ann's night nurse (Atkins), for example, turns into an angel of mercy/fairy godmother who knows Ann's whole past and hints at alternative views about the supposed waste and failure. We'd also like to know much more about the bride's curiously aloof parents (Barry Bostwick and Close).
Nevertheless, we must be grateful to any film with such glorious actresses still at the top of their game, including Streep, who turns up briefly as Lila the Elder.
"Evening" itself reps a master's course in how to make do on a limited budget, a fabulous cast and Rhode Island's generous tax incentives for filmmakers.
A Hart Sharp Entertainment production
Director: Lajos Koltai
Screenwriters: Susan Minot, Michael Cunningham
Based on the novel by: Susan Minot
Producer: Jeffrey Sharp
Executive producers: Jill Footlick, Michael Hogan, Robert Kessel, Susan Minot, Michael Cunningham
Director of photography: Gyula Pados
Production designer: Caroline Hanania
Co-producers: Luke Parker Bowles, Claire Taylor, Nina Wolarsky
Costume designer: Ann Roth, Michelle Matland
Editor: Allyson C. Johnson
Ann Grant: Claire Danes
Nina Mars: Toni Collette
Ann Lord: Vanessa Redgrave
Harris Arden: Patrick Wilson
Budd Wittenborn: Hugh Dancy
Constance Haverford: Natasha Richardson
Lila Wittenborn: Mamie Gummer
Night Nurse: Eileen Atkins
Lila Ross: Meryl Streep
Mrs. Wittenborn: Glenn Close
Running time -- 117 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13