Despite strong performances from its excellent cast, Lajos Koltai's wistful adaptation of Susan Minot's novel Evening doesn't quite connect.
As she lies on what is clearly going to be her deathbed, ailing, elderly Ann Grant (Vanessa Redgrave) is consumed by memories of a pivotal weekend during her youth. While visiting Newport for her best friend Lila's (Mamie Gummer) lavish wedding, aspiring singer Ann (Claire Danes) is torn between the faithful affection of Lila's ne'er-do-well brother, Buddy (Hugh Dancy), and the powerful magnetism of Lila and Buddy's childhood friend, Harris (Patrick Wilson). Meanwhile, in the present, Ann's daughters--domestically inclined Connie (Natasha Richardson, Redgrave's real-life daughter) and bohemian Nina (Toni Collette)--wrestle with their own issues and prepare to bid their mother goodbye. As past and present mingle, secrets are revealed, rifts are mended, and Ann finally comes to terms with the painful memories she's been living with for 50 years.
Evening boasts Hollywood's largest collection of powerhouse actresses since The Hours--which, not coincidentally, was adapted from a novel by Evening co-screenwriter Michael Cunningham. Stars Danes and Redgrave are both excellent, conveying the passionate agony of youth and the melancholy nostalgia of age as effortlessly as you'd expect from A-listers like them. Richardson and Collette also do strong work, as do Wilson and Dancy in the two key male roles (Dancy in particular is a stand out; his Buddy is tragically charming). But the film's most pleasant surprise may be Gummer (Meryl Streep's daughter) in her highest-profile role to date. With her mix of touching vulnerability and WASPy steeliness, she proves that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree: When her famous mom puts in a third-act appearance, it's her daughter's performance she has to live up to.
But somehow, despite the film's literary pedigree (Minot's novel won wide acclaim) and all of the cast's good work, Evening doesn't pack the emotional punch it's clearly designed to evoke. Perhaps that's because Ann and Harris' romance is given such relatively meager screen time that it feels more like a hook up than the kind of grand passion you'd cherish for a lifetime. Or because it's hard not to think that the stars' main motivation might be to acquire some new statues for their mantlepieces (let's put it this way--when Glenn Close is playing a bit part, you know you're in Oscar-hunting territory). It's great to see talented actresses getting such good roles, but when a movie that's clearly meant to be a three-hanky mother-daughter weeper doesn't even inspire a full sniffle, something's missing.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.