June 5, 2007

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Evening (PG-13)
A dying old woman remembers one particularly glamorous and well-lit weekend in her life in Evening, a movie from the writing team that brought you The Hours.

Ann (Vanessa Redgrave) is bed-ridden and addled by morphine (or some similar painkiller) in her home in what we are quickly led to believe are her final days. Her daughters Nina (Toni Collette) and Constance (Natasha Richardson) are tending to her and, outside the sick room, having whispered fights over long-running feuds. One of those feuds involves whether or not to ask their mother about the people — Buddy, Harris — she’s talking about in her half-asleep state.

Ann has only the vaguest notion of what’s going on in the present; she’s replaying one weekend from her past. In it, Ann (Claire Danes) has arrived at a Newport, R.I., mansion to act as maid of honor at the wedding of her friend Lila (Mamie Gummer). Lila is deeply conflicted about her forthcoming wedding in part because of her feelings for Harris (Patrick Wilson), son of the family’s housekeeper and a boy she’s known (and had a crush on) most of her life. Her brother Buddy (Hugh Dancy) also seems to have something of a crush on Harris and certainly a crush on Ann, who is a somewhat more bohemian girl than Buddy and Lila’s upper-crust family. During this weekend they all drink and flirt (with each other, disaster, whatever) and talk way too much.

Back in the present, Ann’s doing a bit of talking to her girls — leading them to talk about the course of their own lives — and even more talking (some of it real, some imagined) to the attending nurse (Eileen Atkins).

Late in the movie, the old Lila (Meryl Streep, Gummer’s mother) shows up to see Ann and gives a brief accounting of the years between that weekend and now.

The movie presents itself as some great bit of literary romance or, if not that, then at least a well-bred weepie. We get pretty cars, pretty dresses, lovely hair and well-scrubbed young people. We get beautiful settings and good lighting — golden sunshine on blue sky days, rich sunset and lamp light in the evenings. We even get a fairly attractive look at the more disheveled modern generation. But every part of the movie feels flat — pleasant but not exciting or engrossing.

Also pleasant are the performances. Claire Danes is more wooden than I remember her being, Patrick Wilson might actually be a manikin but in both cases the lack of liveliness doesn’t get in the way of the overall pleasantness. Redgrave is, well, Redgrave and could do this role in her sleep (and appears to in some parts). Mamie Gummer is perhaps the most interesting actress of the bunch — not so much for anything she does but for her Meryl-Streep-ian potential to do more in the future.

Toward the end of the movie, one of the older characters says that, when you look back on life, many of the worries and troubles end up not to matter very much. When you look back on the events in this movie — particularly in the flashbacks — they also end up not to matter very much. What really happens during that one magical weekend? Two things of note — one sort of happy, one sad — but otherwise not very much. Sure, “this all doesn’t add up to much” isn’t a bad way to look at life’s troubles but “huh, interesting” doesn’t make for a very solid theme on which to build a movie. C-

Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements, sexual material, a brief accident scene and language. Directed by Lajos Koltai and written by Susan Minot and Michael Cunningham (from Minot’s novel), Evening is an hour and 57 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Focus Features.