Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen
I went to see “Evening” prepared to agree with the critics. They had fallen upon it like a pack of hungry wombats, calling it cheap, sneaky, boring, and worst of all – a “woman’s film” bereft of any honest emotion.
The first 20 minutes, I admit, put me in a daze. Something was wrong, even though “Evening” is full of stars. The timing was off, the dialogue incomprehensible and inane, the characters trivial. And then something happened, and I’m not even sure what it was.
Claire Danes began to rehearse a song she was to sing at a wedding. The song was the classic old standard, “Time After Time” (an interesting choice, considering the way this film plays with time itself, and our perception of reality). Suddenly, something magical happened, and the film fell into place. The plot unwound itself, the people blazed into life, and I sat in stunned appreciation throughout the rest of the film.
The story is simply about a woman (Vanessa Redgrave) dying. As she lies on her deathbed, she is attended by her daughters (her real-life daughter, Natasha Richardson, and Toni Collette). Her memory takes us back to a weekend perhaps 50 years ago, when she, as a young girl (beautifully portrayed by Claire Danes) is bridesmaid at her friend’s wedding. The friend is played by Mamie Gummer, who in turn, is played later by her own real-life mom, Meryl Streep.
The film alternates between the long-ago wedding and the deathbed, and becomes an exploration of some of life’s more subtle questions. The characters obliquely ponder things like How do we live with the choices we make? and What really counts, in the end? and other such basically unanswerable questions that one does not normally come across in a movie. It’s certainly not just a huge collection of fascinating actresses yakking about the vagaries of existence.
The two main male actors are not all that well-known as yet, but both are excellently cast. Patrick Wilson plays Harris, the young doctor everyone wants, and Hugh Dancy is Buddy, the young hell-raiser everyone loves. Watch for both these actors in the future; they’re leading men in the works.
One of the most interesting things about this screenplay is the way it explores each character. Through the flashbacks, we see how they have become who they are. It is not a violent film. It’s much more difficult than that, and not everyone – certainly no children – will enjoy it.
I want to see this film again, to integrate and straighten out the beginning. Believe me, the rest of the film makes such a re-viewing worthwhile.
The critics, I believe, have done a disservice to this very unique film that has, in some ways, left me in the dark. When Claire Danes, who was so perfectly cast in “My So-Called Life” on TV, begins to sing in this film, I was immediately reminded of the electricity generated in “Annie Hall,” when Diane Keaton sings “It Had to Be You.” Danes doesn’t have a great voice, but it’s good enough, and that rare magic that only cinema can conjure up seems to explode at that moment.
Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it is just a soap opera, a three-hankie tearjerker disguised by the brilliant acting of half a dozen fine actresses. But I don’t think so. I think it’s a brilliant, flawed work of art.
If you see it, I’d love to hear your own opinion about it. Please e-mail me. Because, frankly, I’m still in the dark.
Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The New Dominion. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.