Bright "Evening" stars shine in uneven drama
Seattle Times movie critic
There's a rambling poetry to Susan Minot's novel "Evening," in which Ann Lord, a 65-year-old woman in the last stages of cancer, looks back on her life, her loves and her regrets. The book's structure, floating from consciousness to memory to fever dream, blurs the lines between the present and the past; the result is a loosely woven yet exquisite tapestry.
Lajos Koltai's film version of the book, adapted by Minot and Michael Cunningham (author of the novel "The Hours"), by necessity tightens these threads, but in doing so loses some of the book's ethereal, dreamlike quality. And in squeezing its many characters and events to manageable movie size, it becomes more ordinary and at times a little melodramatic. Some of the characters, such as Ann's two grown daughters (Natasha Richardson is Constance, the nurturing one; Toni Collette is Nina, the rebellious one), are reduced to types; some of the events feel too idealized to believe.
And yet, in where else but memory do we revise our past, trimming it and prettifying it as we please? The film's flashbacks, spun in the weary reverie of a bedridden Ann (Vanessa Redgrave), focus on a specific time in Ann's past. As a young woman (played by Claire Danes) in the '50s, she attended the wedding of her friend Lila (Mamie Gummer), held at Lila's wealthy family's Newport compound. There, she met a man, Harris (Patrick Wilson), and fell quickly, instantly, terribly in love. And then, life went on.
Koltai, a former cinematographer ("Being Julia," "Sunshine"), drenches the film in yellow late-summer light; the green lawns in Newport seem to glow in the sun. Ann Roth and Michelle Matland's costumes, with their cinched waists and bouquets of color, are a vision, and the film's occasional dream sequences, with Redgrave in a flowing nightgown stepping into her own memories, have a hushed beauty. At times it's almost too self-consciously pretty, but that's a welcome flaw.
Though the filmmaking is uneven, "Evening" redeems itself in its marvelous cast, which echoes the movies' themes by showcasing two real-life mother-daughter acting duos. Redgrave and Richardson bring a pathos to their scenes together that's heartbreaking. Constance gazes sadly at her fading mother, willing her old self to return; her smile as Ann wakens for just a moment is like a moment of sunlight.
And audiences members may murmur as Gummer appears, with her patrician blond beauty and elegantly familiar long nose. Yes, she is Meryl Streep's daughter, and Streep herself appears late in the film, playing Gummer's character in old age. The two have voices, profiles and presences that are uncannily similar; you genuinely believe that it's the same person, fast-forwarded several decades. In a movie that reminds us what matters in the evening of our lives, their presence is the very best kind of special effect.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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