But I think the term ‘chick flick’ doesn’t even begin to paint the whole picture. “Evening” is a beautifully photographed, well-written film starring some of the best actresses of a couple of generations. Anyone who appreciates well-made films should seek this out, whether they are female, male, straight or otherwise. But I have a feeling that no matter how much I try to convince you otherwise, if you are intent on seeing “Die Hard 4”, you probably aren’t interested in also watching “Evening”. Right? Or am I the only freak out there? (See my review of “Live Free or Die Hard” to discover how much of a freak I am).
Ann (Claire Danes) arrives at the Providence estate of her best friend, Lila (Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep’s daughter); to serve as Maid of Honor for her friend’s wedding. Flash forward fifty years and Ann (Vanessa Redgrave) is on her death bed and telling confusing stories of that weekend fifty years before, confusing her grown daughters, Constance (Natasha Richardson, Vanessa Redgrave’s daughter) and Nina (Toni Collette). As the daughters try to help their mother rest peacefully, they try to come to terms with their own relationships, both with their mother and with each other. The night nurse (Eileen Atkins) helps Ann deal with the pain, but also serves as a sort of guide to the magical, fateful events so many summers ago. As soon as Ann arrives for the wedding, Buddy (Hugh Dancy), Lila’s alcoholic brother, asks Ann to help him stop the wedding. Lila doesn’t love her fiancée and should really marry Harris (Patrick Wilson), the son of a former housekeeper. But Lila realizes she must go through with the marriage because her mother (Glenn Close) would have a fit. As Ann and Harris get to know each other, they begin to fall in love, much to both Buddy and Lila’s dismay. Many years later, Lila (Meryl Streep) visits Ann on her death bed to provide her with some comfort before her friend passes away.
“Evening”, directed by Lajos Koltai (a cinematographer who has worked on many, many Hollywood films) and written by Michael Cunningham (“The Hours”) and Susan Minot, based on her novel of the same name, is a well-made film exploring the ‘mistakes’ a couple of women make and how these mistakes effect the rest of their lives.
The multigenerational story is told through a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards. Beginning with Redgrave, as Ann, on her deathbed, we see some of her memories and this seems to be the binding thread to the narrative. As Ann floats in and out of consciousness, she remembers various snippets of this big moment in her life. After this rhythm is established, we realize we are going to watch various moments, told in a pretty free flowing pattern. Yet, the moments from the past are told in chronological order and seem complete, so it is less confusing than it may seem from my description. But these moments are highlights of this event, and some of the connecting bits are left out, some of the less important moments which seem lost to Redgrave’s character’s memory.
Basically, the story tells of two different events in these character’s lives. Lila’s wedding was a big event for everyone involved. One woman marries a man she doesn’t love, one woman falls in love with another man and an event causes them to remain apart. There is a lot more at work in this story, but this is the gist of it. In the modern day story, Ann’s pain medicine causes her to fall in and out of consciousness. In these moments, she talks with her night nurse (Atkins), who at times is a nurse and at others, seems to be a sort of guide into the other world, helping her keep her thoughts and memories as clear as possible. In these moments, her ramblings also cause her daughters (Richardson and Collette) to ask questions about their mother and about their own lives and to make some decisions.
The story is multilayered and shifts back and forth, seemingly at whim, but it is very easy to follow.
The cast for this film is fantastic. Many of the best actresses of three generations are apart of this film, along with two up and coming actors. I know the film is getting some negative reviews and I think perhaps they are letting their expectations get ahead of them. Any film with this cast has to be good, and I think the expectations for this film are high, maybe too high. “Evening” is a very good film. But with a cast like this, many clearly expect it to be a great film. It isn’t a great film.
Claire Danes is very good as Ann. As soon as she arrives at the estate of her friend, we get that she is a ‘free spirit’. She is wearing clothes she found at some shop in the ‘village’. Naturally, Lila’s rich friends assume Anne is talking about a village in Africa or something, but Anne is from New York and is talking about Greenwich Village. More to her credit, she doesn’t really care what they think about her, or her clothes. She is there to support her friend, Lila, and her brother, Buddy (Dancy).
Ann quickly suspects something is wrong; Buddy pleads with her to stop the wedding and Ann finds Lila crying on more than one occasion. She quickly learns Harris (Wilson) is the problem. Lila is in love with him, whether she will admit it or not, and as he is the son of a former housekeeper, she can’t marry him. Buddy is also a raging alcoholic and everyone tries to control it, taking away his champagne bottles, but Buddy is a grown boy and manages to get through the barriers his family and friends set-up. As Ann gets to know Harris, they become attracted to one another, and Lila and Buddy realize this, setting off a chain of events that will all but guarantee Ann and Harris never get together.
Throughout, Danes portrays Ann as a free spirit, yet a caring young woman. Sure, she makes mistakes, but she recognizes when there is a problem and tries to correct it. But these events seem to stamp the rest of her life. We see brief glimpses of a couple of moments later in her life and they don’t seem to be especially happy.
But then, as we watch Ann, as played by Redgrave, we get the sense despite some occasional unhappy moments, she is, overall, very pleased with her life. Redgrave is such an accomplished actress that she can make even a character who is laying in bed for the entire film seem real and interesting and, in a way, lively. Ann is on pain killers so she has lucid moments when she seems more lively and involved in the lives of her daughters and the memories she is living through. When the pain killers take over, she has moments that are more dreamlike; her night nurse appears in a beautiful dress straight out of the 50s. It is a great performance and really helps to make Ann seem more real and more human.
Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep’s daughter, plays Lila in the 50s. It is actually a bit freakish to watch her because she is the spitting image of her mother and even sounds just like her. Her role is a bit difficult to identify with, she is marrying the ‘right type of man’ rather than the man she really loves. I think this is a difficult concept for us to understand as this is, hopefully, not something that is really practiced these days. Because she seems so upset about getting married to this man, we don’t really understand why she doesn’t just marry Harris. Then, later, when Meryl Streep takes over the role, Streep makes Lila come alive. Streep has one extended scene in the film, but it is a memorable one. As she talks with her old friend, lying together with her in bed, we finally start to see some of the thinking behind this decision made so many years ago.
Toni Collette plays Ann’s younger daughter, and the daughter with the most problems. Throughout the film, she has to come to terms with her relationship with her mother, her older sister (Richardson) and her boyfriend. As her mom’s story begins to come into focus, and she realizes her mom did love them, and care for them, she makes some decisions which seem as though they will change her life for the better.
Strangely, the two daughters of other actresses in the film come off the weakest. Gummer is good, but it isn’t until her mom takes over the role that we really begin to connect with it. And Richardson seems merely bitter or pissed off throughout.
Glenn Close plays Lila’s mother, a wealthy woman who probably also married for the wrong reasons. In her few scenes, her character is interesting, but the role is too small to allow her to do anything monumental with it.
Patrick Wilson, who made a splash as the stay at home dad in last year’s “Little Children” plays Harris, the man torn between at least three different people. He is good as the son of a former housekeeper who now finds himself invited into this world, he seems to regard this environment with a healthy disdain. When Harris and Ann start to let their mutual attraction guide them, I became more involved in their characters.
Hugh Dancy plays Buddy, the happy drunk who is trying to save his sister from a lifetime of misery. The role is very over the top and seems more than a little cartoony; sure, people act like this, but it is very difficult to make this type of character work. Unfortunately, because the character doesn’t seem all that real when he becomes the lynchpin of the entire story, it falls a little flat.
For a long time during the film, I appreciated the performances, but it wasn’t until a scene between Wilson and Danes that I started to become emotionally affected by the characters. This scene happens quite late, so it takes a while to become fully involved in the story.
“Evening” is a beautiful film to watch and it is a very good film, but I think many people will expect the film to be great, based on the pedigree of the writer and the actresses involved.