I went into Evening really wanting — nay, expecting — to love it. Look at the cast of respected actresses in this film: Vanessa Redgrave, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Toni Collette... the list continues. I hunkered down in the theater, equipped with tissues, readying myself for some heartwarmth and perhaps a cathartic sob or two. What happened instead? I nearly fell asleep.
The story follows the dying Ann (Redgrave), who is beginning to lose her grasp on the difference between past and present. She mentally relives a period of her life that she never shared with her adult daughters Nina (Collette) and Constance (Natasha Richardson) — the time she fell in love with the same man (Patrick Wilson) her best friend Lila (Mamie Gummer/Meryl Streep) also loved. Some other stuff happens that's of consequence though we're not allowed to concentrate on it for long because the daughters' stories are also roped into Ann's story. It sort of has that Beaches friendship 'n death thing going on, but there's so much other clutter involved that it's ultimately unsatisfying. There's more to say, though, so read more
Swathed in the dusky colors of evening-time and employing adorable period costumes, the look and feel of the movie is luscious and pleasant. Some of the performances are excellent, especially given the sloppy script. Toni Collette, in particular, is a breath of fresh air every time she's onscreen, as usual. Vanessa Redgrave is given little to work with, and by midway through the film I had her pattern down: Lie in bed, babble incoherently about things we don't yet understand, drift off to sleep murmuring to self, repeat. Ann's story told in flashbacks with Danes playing the young Ann would have been quite interesting Danes played Ann with any shred of personality at all. Thus, I come to the greatest problem with this movie: Claire Danes.
As I've mentioned before, I actually like Claire Danes. I enjoyed her part in The Hours, found her pleasant to watch in Shopgirl, and of course she'll always have a special place in my heart as Angela Chase. So watching her fail in this film was disappointing. For a movie almost entirely about her character she doesn't manage to keep the audience's attention for more than a minute or so. Most of all, there is a massive disconnect between Vanessa Redgrave's characterization and Danes' lack thereof — not once did I believe the two women to be playing the same character. The resultant feeling is one of muddy confusion and irritation.
Everyone else is more intriguing to watch than Danes, and I was particularly mesmerized by the character of Lila. Lila in general seems more complex than Ann, but Mamie Gummer's performance as the young Lila is also more interesting than Danes'. And then there is Meryl Streep as the adult Lila, whose screen time is quite brief, but for the few minutes she's there she far outshines anything else in the movie. One gets the feeling watching Streep that she has all the world's wisdom in her possession, and is doling it out in tiny increments. I was left desperately craving more Streep, as she was the only truly great thing about the film. But alas, I only got more of Danes until, to my relief, the movie ended.