Everybody hooks up at weddings. But in the annals of bridesmaid booty calls, few are as doomy as the one in Evening, a morose new chick flick from some of the same people who brought you the mother of all mopey, multigenerational estrogen-fests, The Hours. As it toggles between the present-day deathbed dementia of sassy septuagenarian Ann (Vanessa Redgrave) and her shiny, Crayola-colored flashbacks to life in the '50s, the movie attempts to chronicle that tenuous time between youth and adulthood age 25, to be exact when our hormones are still firing on all cylinders, but we're expected to act like real live grown-ups. It promises passion and fireworks, melodrama and tears plenty of tears. But the movie is about as captivating and transporting as a tall glass of warm milk.
"We killed Buddy," one of Redgrave's early utterances, may lead you to think that a juicy mystery lurks beneath Evening's nostalgic mist. But don't be fooled: Michael Cunningham's script is far more concerned with the death of innocence you know, that thing you studied in eighth-grade English class than unsolved mysteries. The Gatsby-like figure at the center of it all is indeed Buddy (Hugh Dancy), the drunk, romantically ambiguous son of a clan of stuffy East Coast WASPs celebrating the conformist wedding of their bland daughter Lila (Mamie Gummer). Tagging along for the ceremony is their friend in Buddy's case, his obsession the young, bohemian Ann (Clare Danes), whose proto-beatnik threads and general outsider status make her a perfect fit for the strapping Harris (Patrick Wilson), the son of one of the family's servants.
Class conflict and repressed desires are at the heart of Evening, but director Lajos Koltai hasn't found a way to visualize his characters' emotional straightjackets, an idea better expressed in Todd Haynes' brilliant '50s fantasia Far From Heaven, or even in Cunningham's blunt, mechanically effective Hours. In general, these sorts of time-spanning, multi-character angst parades work better on the page than they do on the big screen for proof, just watch the movie versions of A Separate Peace or The Great Gatsby and sure enough, Evening has been drastically condensed from Susan Minot's novel. What Koltai and Cunningham miss in character development they try to make up for with a flurry of random moments from Ann's life in the finale, sequences so jarring, they should be preceded by "scene missing" title cards.
Some powerhouse acting could've redeemed the film. But nepotism and miscasting have run wild on the Evening set, with somewhat disastrous results. One of Ann's grown daughters is played by Natasha Richardson, Redgrave's daughter in real life; meanwhile, if Gummer looks familiar, that's because she's the daughter of Meryl Streep, who shows up late in the film as an elderly version of Lila. Richardson is decent, but her character is superfluous and underwritten, while Gummer seems out of her league as a golden girl who's throwing her life away. Neither is as out-of-place, however, as Danes, whose wispy, shrinking-violet version of Ann doesn't even begin to suggest the vigor of the grande dame Redgrave, whose aged Ann who has no qualms telling her daughters, "oh, fuck off." Only in these present-day scenes, opposite the sublime Eileen Atkins (playing a deadpan nurse) and the achingly real Toni Collette (as Ann's other daughter, Nina), does Evening really take off.
For a movie obsessed with memory and regret, you'd think the memories would have at least a little life to them.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].