By William Wolf

EVENING  Send This Review to a Friend

The main reason for seeing “Evening” is the occasion to watch a distinguished company of stars in action. The opportunity overshadows the quality of the film itself, but where can you find Vanessa Redgrave, Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer (Streep‘s daughter), Glenn Close, Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Natasha Richardson, Eileen Atkins, Patrick Wilson and Hugh Dancy all emoting in the same film?

“Evening,” directed by Lajos Koltai from a screenplay by Susan Minot and Michael Cunningham based on Minot’s popular book, flits back and forth in time. Redgrave plays Ann, who lies dying, her mind drifting to memories of youth and a particular aborted love that has filled her with regret tinged with joyful recollection. Danes plays Ann as the young woman who was smitten with Patrick Wilson as Harris.

Gummer, looking amazingly like her famous mother, plays the young Lila, Ann’s close friend, ready to be married despite her crush on the same Harris. In the latter period Streep as the elder Lila visits Ann on her deathbed and the scene they have together is of the sort that is likely to be used in the future when summarizing the film careers of these extraordinary actresses. Collette and Richardson play Ann’s daughters, both puzzled over their mother’s hallucinating with references to the past. They wonder what mom was up to.

Close plays Mrs. Wittenborn, the mother of Buddy, who is enamored of the young Ann, with Buddy played by Dancy. The character, who may also have homosexual leanings, has been expanded from less importance in the book, not a wise choice, as he becomes a drag on the film with his alcoholism and endless histrionics that make one wish he would disappear. He finally does, in a tragic event that gives Close a big scene of unbridled grief. Earlier, Close has the opportunity to show her matriarchal, upscale social level, which the expert actress can do handily with a well-placed glance. As for Atkins, she has the minor role of Ann’s night nurse, but she brings authority to the part with her mere presence and solidity.

The scene has been switched from Maine in the book to Newport in the film, with a result of emphasis on the sort of society for which Newport became known.

The problem with “Evening,” despite offering the pleasure of watching the stars in action, is that the story itself is on the heavy and sometimes dull side without being especially fascinating. The back and forth smacks of contrivance without the dramatic power needed to carry the saga along. Still, with a cast like that, one’s attention is riveted and the satisfaction of watching performances even in a problematical vehicle is its own reward. A Focus Features release.


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