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EVENING(director: Lajos Koltai; screenwriters: Susan Minot/Michael Cunningham/based on the book by Susan Minot; cinematographer: Gyula Pados; editor: Allyson C. Johnson; music: Jan A. P. Kaczmarek; cast: Claire Danes (Ann Grant), Toni Collette (Nina Mars), Vanessa Redgrave (Ann Lord), Patrick Wilson (Harris Arden), Hugh Dancy (Buddy Wittenborn), Natasha Richardson (Constance Haverford), Mamie Gummer (Lila Wittenborn), Eileen Atkins (Night Nurse), Meryl Streep (Lila Ross), Glenn Close (Mrs. Wittenborn), Timothy Kiefer (Carl Ross), Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Luc); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Jeffrey Sharp; Focus Features; 2007)
“It suffocates in all its blue-blooded proprieties and cloying sentimentalities.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Evening is based on a bestselling 1998 novel of the same title by Susan Minot. It’s coscripted with corny romantic dialogue by Michael Cunningham (the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Hours”) and by Ms. Minot. Hungarian-born director Lajos Koltai (“Fateless”) keeps it barely alive on life support as a weepie psychological drama that concerns itself with matters of the heart, life and death decisions, and one’s sexual identity. Its examination of these vital concerns is tediously rendered, as it suffocates in all its blue-blooded proprieties and cloying sentimentality only to tell us in all earnestness, after a dreary two hours, as if it made a major discovery previously unknown, that it’s wise to seize the moment because such happiness might not come around again. It takes an all-star cast to spout such banal dialogue, and they strike out despite their valiant efforts to show us they have the thesp ability to hit even bad screenplays out of the theater; unfortunately for them and us, the Sirkian melodrama never brings about any sparks to this chick-flick celebrating the last gasps of the heroine trying to get out word about her secret love before it’s too late.

It has former failed nightclub singer Ann Grant Lord (Vanessa Redgrave), a grey-haired sixtysomething, on her deathbed and under morphine going in and of consciousness with her ‘angel of mercy’ night nurse (Eileen Atkins) and loving married daughters–the stable Constance Haverford (Natasha Richardson, the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave) and the unstable Nina Mars (Toni Collette)–at her side. The story revolves around Ann calling out the name of Harris Arden (Patrick Wilson) as someone she once loved and regrettably never married–calling it a mistake. This surprises the daughters, as they never heard her mention that name before.

The flashbacks are framed back to the 1950s and the present is some 50 years later. We soon learn that Harris is a small-town Massachusetts doctor whose family were servants to the wealthy upper-crust Wittenborn family from New England and their daughter Lila (Mamie Gummer, daughter of Meryl Streep) was secretly in love with him but because of family pressure couldn’t marry someone from a lower-class and so is set to marry fellow blue-blood Carl Ross. The young Ann Grant, played radiantly by Claire Danes, is best friends with the bride and her drunken reckless brother Buddy (Hugh Dancy) ever since college. Ann is invited to the bride’s luxurious seacliff home in Newport, R.I., to be the maid of honor and to sing a song the bride requested. What surprises Ann is that both Buddy and the bride herself tell her that Harris is the one who should be the groom, and that after meeting Harris, a rather bland but handsome and pleasant young man, Ann also falls in love with him and spends some quality time with him under the evening stars. In fact, Ann, Lila and Buddy fall in love with the doctor, but none of them bag him. That honor goes to a nurse in his small-town. In all the turmoil around the wedding scenes, that include a fatal hit-and-run accident, the bride’s regal parents (Barry Bostwick and Glenn Close) remain surprisingly tight-lipped and detached.

The results of what was a quickie weekend love affair that sparked a lifetime of regret for the dying Ann seemed hard to believe as told, and therefore I felt spared from using my hanky to shed any tears. The only relief I got was that she passed away off-screen, at last, and I could safely exit this death-vigil of a pic, after almost dying myself from boredom, knowing there wasn’t much that touched me–everything seemed so programmed, Hallmark Card pretty, artificial and flimsy.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”