Ann Grant (Vanessa Redgrave) is lying in her sick bed at home close to death, and in a combination of flashbacks and fantasies, she reflects how as a young woman (Claire Danes) she met Harris (Patrick Wilson), the man she loved all her life, even though they never married, and the tragic young man who in turn loved Ann (Hugh Dancy), hopelessly. Her two grown up daughters (Toni Collette, Natasha Richardson) don't know what to make of her ramblings about the past, until Ann's friend from those days, Lila (Mamie Gummer/Meryl Streep) comes to say farewell to her old friend.
Review by Louise Keller:
There are two great moments in this lumbering adaptation by Pulitzer Prize-winning author (The Hours) Michael Cunningham; both towards the end. The first is the scene in which Meryl Streep and Vanessa Redgrave share the screen in tight close-up, as they reminisce about their lives, loves and mistakes. Director Lajos Koltai zooms in with the camera as if to capture every thought that passes through the minds of these two giants of the screen. The second great moment is shared between Claire Danes and Patrick Wilson, as they stand under separate umbrellas in the pouring rain, on a bleak, wintry evening. Their exchange is short but their words are explosive with innuendo.
"Your first mistake is like your first kiss," muses Vanessa Redgrave's elderly Ann to her two daughters, from her sick-bed. "You never forget it." Based on a best-selling novel by Susan Minot, Evening is a story about mistakes. Mistakes in life; mistakes in love. There are mismatches and weddings to the wrong man. There's unrequited love, falling in love with the notion of love and being unsure of one's feelings. But mistakes are part of the fun, Ann's pianist tells her, when as a young girl, she rehearses the song she will sing at her best friend's wedding.
While the cast is marvellous, the way the story constantly jumps from the present to the past is blatantly irritating. Just as we begin to be involved in the characters and their situation, the time frame suddenly shifts. Claire Danes is the film's most likeable character as the young Ann, but the all-important love-affair with the stand-offish Harris (Patrick Wilson) has little spark. Real-life mother and daughter Redgrave and Natasha Richardson share the screen with grace and Mamie Gummer, Streep's daughter who plays Streep's Lila as a young girl, is impressive and their resemblance unmistakable. Toni Collette's Nina is a pitiful and rather unlikeable character, although her emotional journey is tangible. Koltai's direction in the film's final reel, however, is disappointing. This is a film full of meaningful aspirations and although it tries to convince us in the end that there is no such thing as a mistake, I can't help feeling that the film is an opportunity missed.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
An ambitious project this, adapting a novel that's so completely about emotions, about shifting sentiments and about the realm of semi consciousness near death - a bleak mix of dreams, hallucinations and memories. Above all memories - memories made sharper by their emotional context, and fuelled by the passing of time.
The adaptation struggles to keep us engaged until, ironically enough, the final scenes when Meryl Streep arrives, the older Lila, for a bedside farewell. This and the subsequent scene with Toni Collette are my favourites in the entire film, brimming with insight, character and some quiet observations about life that resonate instantly. Streep is superb, and the scene with Redgrave is a showcase of vintage screen acting.
With the focus of the film in its earlier stages firmly on Ann - flitting between her deathbed and her youth, rather jarringly sometimes - we are led to slowly unravel who is what and why. But while book may take us in its spiral of love unrequited and love uncertain, the film ends up playing a bit like a one note samba, even when it plays two notes - the sisters' antagonism, which goes nowhere.
Likewise, the young love foursome involving Ann (Claire Danes) and Lila (Natasha Richardson), Harris (Patrick Wilson) and Buddy (Hugh Dancy) becomes repetitive in the telling, even while we recognise the complex textures of its evolution.
In the end, though, it is the older Lila (Meryl Streep) who pronounces calm on this world with her stoic, yet not insensitive wisdom. A classic end shot confirms Lajos Koltai's traditionalist filmmaking style.
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CAST: Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Natasha Richardson, Meryl Streep and her daughter Mamie Gummer, Glenn Close and her daughter Annie Maude Starke, Patrick Wilson, Hugh Dancy
PRODUCER: Jeff Sharp
DIRECTOR: Lajos Koltai
SCRIPT: Michael Cunningham (novel by Susan Minot)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Gyula Pados
EDITOR: Allyson C. Johnson
MUSIC: Jan A. P. Kaczmarek
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Caroline Hanania
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 19, 2007