Stars Can’t Salvage a Long Evening at the Movies
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
- 2007 7 Jul
DVD Release Date: September 25, 2007
Theatrical Release Date: June 29, 2007 (wide)
Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements, sexual material, a brief accident scene and language)
Run Time: 117 min.
Director: Lajos Koltai
Actors: Vanessa Redgrave, Meryl Streep, Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Natasha Richardson, Patrick Wilson, Eileen Atkins, Glenn Close, Barry Bostwick
Late in Evening, director Lajos Koltai’s star-packed adaptation of Susan Minot’s novel, the protagonist, Ann (Vanessa Redgrave), is reunited on her deathbed with her old friend Lila (Meryl Streep). The opportunity to see Streep and Redgrave—two of the greatest actresses ever—in the same scene should justify the price of admission to this highbrow drama.
Save your money.
The few minutes of screen time devoted to the actresses’ shared scenes are a complete bore—an anticlimax fitting this tortured, torpid movie. It’s a deathbed story of a life where lessons aren’t learned, and in which viewers are asked to swallow the line that happiness means never owning up to our past errors in judgment.
We meet Ann Lord as a frail, dying woman, whose two daughters, Nina (Toni Collette) and Constance (Natasha Richardson, who is Redgrave’s daughter in real life), have come to visit her one last time at her New England home. In an early mark of the film’s shaky tone, the opening images try to overwhelm us with a sense of natural wonder—Koltai made a name for himself as a cinematographer of such films as Being Julia and the Ralph Fiennes vehicle, Sunshine—but come off looking oddly artificial.
Much of the film, however, will be set indoors, as the film shifts to Ann’s bedroom, and we discover that the salty sea air has affected Ann’s attitude. “You’ve been a good mother,” says one of her daughters. “F--- off,” she replies, with a smile.
We’re only a few minutes into the film at this point.
Ann’s mysterious reference to someone named Harris sparks her daughters’ curiosity. Who is this strange man their mother once knew? Multiple flashbacks tell the story of Ann’s early life as an aspiring jazz singer, and her visit to the wedding of her good friend, Lila Wittenborn (Mamie Gummer plays Lila as a young woman, while her real-life mother, Streep, portrays the older Lila). Lila’s brother, Buddy (Hugh Dancy), greets Ann upon her arrival for the wedding, but begs her to intervene and prevent Lila’s marriage to Carl (Timothy Kiefer). Buddy insists that Lila’s true love is Harris Arden (Patrick Wilson), but Buddy’s alcohol-fueled rambling and his own confused feelings toward Harris—whom he kisses on the mouth, in one drunken moment—prevent others from taking him seriously. The responsibility to prevent Lila’s nuptials falls to Ann, but Lila rebuffs her repeated efforts to intervene.
In the meantime, Ann becomes the third person among the wedding guests to fall for Harris. Their mutual attraction leads to a one-night stand, and culpability in the death of one of the many troubled characters in Evening.
The film swings back to the present day more than once, where the dying Ann, attended to by a night nurse (Eileen Atkins), imagines herself chasing butterflies and singing torch songs in a nightclub—awkward attempts to visualize Ann’s spiritual preparations to enter into the next life.
As Ann slips away, her daughters bicker. Nina is pregnant but has yet to tell the father of her baby, and she’s not sure she needs advice from her sister, who stresses the changes that come with having a child.
At last Lila arrives for one last chat with her old friend, Ann, and to provide answers to the daughters’ remaining questions. “We are mysterious creatures,” Lila says, “and at the end, so much of it turns out not to matter.”
“There’s no such thing as a mistake,” Ann concludes, summing up the theme of this errant story. But the movie that surrounds them is evidence to the contrary.
AUDIENCE: Older teens and up
- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; several profanities.
- Drugs/Alcohol: Drinking, including depiction of an alcoholic.
- Sex/Nudity: Discussion of affairs; backside of a male shown; passionate kissing; and a woman removes a man’s shirt as they prepare to have sex (not shown, but they wake up next to each other); a new bride strips to her undergarments; an unmarried pregnant woman weighs her options; two men kiss.
- Violence: A character is hit by a car; a man jumps into a body of water and is feared drowned.