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IN SHORT: Let the sun go down on this one. [Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements, sexual material, a brief accident scene, and language. 117 minutes]
From the first orchestrated chord in the opening seconds of Evening, Cranky knew he was in for a whopper of a chick flick. Actually we knew that from the cast list and story description. The music kicked like a mule. We wish it could have put us out for the next two miserable hours as Evening misses the mark while going far beyond the emotional wringer that is status quo for the usual chick flick. It is a stupefying, boring sit -- and we were sitting in a screening room filled to capacity with demographically appropriate female viewers. We sat with one of them, a fellow critic and a good acquaintance. She provided most of the appropriate reaction for us. She, too, was bored silly.
Evening is Hungarian director Lajos Koltai's second feature after an earlier career path led to an Academy Award-nomination for cinematography (Malèna, 2000). Koltai's other credits as a DP are impressive, but that doesn't always translate to the director's chair, especially when said director doesn't have English as a primary language. For a story whose emotional levels rise and fall based on a word or a phrase, our gut feeling is that it was left to the actors to decide when and how to deliver their emotional changes, since they're among the best female performers in the world and don't need to be told what to do. Well, when flashbacks raise their ugly heads again and again, yeah, you do need a stronger hand at the helm.
Working against Koltai is the need to use two stories, set fifty years apart, and balance events in one generation against the other. We begin with a dying Ann Lord (Vanessa Redgrave) who, slowly dying in her bed, calls out the name of a man daughters Constance (Natasha Richardson) and Nina (Toni Collette) have never heard of. "Harris." The daughters start hunting through mom's things for any mention of the man, this while waiting for mom to wake with the occasional sound mind. In the meantime Ann is looked after by night nurse (Eileen Atkins), and the film flashes back to Ann's creaky memories of a summer fifty years back
In those earlier days, a more vivacious Ann (Claire Danes) arrives in Newport Rhode Island to be maid of honor at the wedding of college pal Lila Wittenborn (Mamie Gummer, daughter of Streep and the only captivating performance in the bunch). Lila is a wreck; emotionally detached from her own mother (Glenn Close) in that way that seems peculiar to the richer WASP lifestyle, she leans on Ann to get through the pre-marital jitters. Ann is more than supportive enough to tell Lila it's OK to scrap the whole wedding deal, but that is never going to happen. Lila's brother Buddy (Hugh Dancy) has eyes on Ann, that is while he isn't getting drunk. Everybody -- male and female -- is keeping close watch on wedding guest Harris Arden (Patrick Wilson), a beautiful though common man; son of a boatswain who used to work for the Wittenborns and other fabulously wealthy families of Newport.
While that long ago summer may have been intoxicating, literally and figuratively, for all, as a movie it is beyond bearable. What should have left an audience in tears generated not a single wet eye in the screening room. Not even teary. Not even a sniffle.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Evening, he would have paid . . .
Twenty years or so ago, Cranky was making a dumb attempt to start a career as an actor. As such, we knew (not in the biblical sense) plenty of young homosexual males, those who would iconize Donna Reed. Only they could sit through Evening, and that for the 1950s costumes.
Whose brilliant idea was it to hand over a film which runs on small emotions to a non-English speaking director???? How is he going to communicate details when the language, let alone the culture (and WASP culture is way different from most of us ...) ?
All you've got here is an A-list cast, and Streep II made a terrific debut. There wasn't a wet eye in the house. Not even a sniffle... except from allergies maybe.
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