2007 - United States - 117 minutes
Writers - Susan Minot and Michael Cunningham
Director - Lajos Koltai
My Rating - 4 of 5 Stars
If you cannot enjoy a chick flick, stop right now. If, however, you enjoy films that illustrate complex characters and provide extraordinary acting, read on.
Ann Grant Lord is dying. Her two daughters arrive to be at her bedside. Ann begins talking about people from her past of whom the daughters are unaware, and they question as to whether these lost acquaintances are real or imagined. They come to realize that these people from their mother's past are, indeed, real.
The story shifts, basically, between 1953 and circa 2000 with a few glimpses at Ann's life between those years. It was in 1953 that Ann met the love of her life and experienced her life's greatest tragedy.
One of Ann's two best friends from college, Lila, is being married. Ann's other best friend is Lila's brother, Buddy. Lila and Buddy are the children of a rich Newport family, whereas Ann is a cabaret singer living in Greenwich Village who wants to be a free spirit but is still bound by many of those 1950's conventions.
Soon after Ann arrives to be maid of honor at Lila's wedding, she meets the person who will become the pivotal character in the lives of the three - Harris. He is the adult son of a former servant of the family who grew up with Lila and Buddy and has gone on to become a physician in a small New England town. Ann immediately becomes enamored of Harris which adds a complication to the fact that Lila has always been in love with Harris and continues to be. Buddy, also, is in love with Harris, but being 1953, he has redirected that homosexual desire for Harris to his good friend, Ann for he cannot admit to himself that he has a sexual craving for another man. Buddy exhibits his inner frustration outwardly by being the alcoholic, wise-cracking bad boy of the family - much to the chagrin of his very proper and uptight parents.
Needless to say, all of these expressed and repressed emotions lead to tragedy - after all this is a chick flick.
In the present time, Ann's daughters have become distant from their mother and are suffering their own life realizations and doubts. Constance is working to emotional exhaustion trying to keep up her roll as perfect mother and wife. Nina, having always felt inferior, cannot maintain a relationship.
Stir all of these relationships into a span of fifty years, and you get an intriguing look at society, its values, and its effects upon the personalities and actions of the complex people involved.
All of the acting in Evening is excellent, but there are some extraordinary performances and scenes - along with two unique family relationships - that make this film so very, very special.
Claire Danes plays the 1950's Ann, and she does it in a style that clearly shows an intelligent woman of those times who is conflicted by what she is supposed to do as opposed to what she wants to do. Her performance is not easily forgettable.
Vanessa Redgrave plays the dying Ann whose mind shifts from the present, to the past, to flights of fantasy, and of course, Redgrave pulls it all off with sterling style.
Natasha Richardson - Redgrave's real daughter - plays Ann's daughter, Constance, in the film. The scenes between this real life mother and daughter playing fictional mother and daughter are an insightful treat to watch.
Toni Collette plays Ann's other daughter, Nina. Nina spends a good deal of her time being depressed and feeling sorry for herself while shutting out a good man who loves her as well as her mother and sister. Collette is perfect for a part such as this, but I have never seen her give a bad or unbelievable performance no matter what part she plays.
Mamie Gummer plays 1950's Lila and shows us a woman even more conflicted of her expected role in life than her good friend, Ann. She is very good.
Meryl Streep - Gummer's mother - plays present day Lila. What is there to say about Meryl Streep other than she always gives an insightful and rewarding performance.
Director Lajos Koltai states in the DVD extras that he sought out Glenn Close to play the relatively small part of Lila's mother because he felt she was the only actress he could think of to play one scene in the film. He certainly was right, and Close's performance in that one scene etches it in your mind. All the other scenes in which Close is Lila's very proper mother, and you get another performance to treasure.
There are three other scenes in the film, combined with the one featuring Close described above, that make the whole movie worth watching. On Lila's wedding day, Ann comes into her room and crawls into to bed with her friend to discuss Lila's misforgivings about her upcoming wedding to a man she clearly does not love. This scene is repeated fifty years later when Lila comes and crawls into bed with her dying friend Ann to talk about the lives they have lived. In this latter scene, Streep and Redgrave are enthralling.
The other memorable scene - at least to me - is when Buddy declares his love for Ann. Hugh Dancy as Buddy gives us a heartbreaking performance of a young man torn apart by his conflicting sexual feelings. His performance is superior.
Chick flick? Yes. A very special film with unbelievable acting, directing, and scenery? Definitely. I cannot recommend Evening too much.
October 7, 2007