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IN SHORT: You literally have to stick it out to the very, very end. [Rated PG-13 for Some Sexuality and Drug Content. 102 minutes]
For those in our reading audience still in college, let us propose this theorem which you may research to your heart's content: Playwright Tennessee Williams begins his play writing with one "whack you over the head with a baseball bat" line of dialog and then creates a script to wrap around it and make it real.
Trust me, you'll thank me when you've done the legwork. The most famous of 'em all, of course, is "I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers" from A Streetcar Named Desire. The first production of The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond adds a whopper to the canon, but said whopper is the very last line of dialog in the film and spilling it here will wreck it for you. Sorry, it is the truth.
Williams' tales of people rich and poor in the Deep South have always featured at least one character who appears to be tough but is actually a walking basket case (or something close to it for any of a number of reasons). Without getting technical that character is called Fisher Willow (Bryce Dallas Howard) and she is a young woman who, when first we meet, lives a dangerous life. We see her in what is Mississippi of the 1920s, partying with negroes! Her father, a wealthy landowner, is no longer on the scene. He has dynamited some levees south of his landholdings, seen in the very first scene of the film, and a whole messa folks was drowned. Two of them were white. So much for daddy.
Fisher's life is now overseen by her Aunt Cornelia (Ann-Margret) who is more than willing to fix her niece up with middle aged men to properly escort her niece throughout the debutante season. The family is loaded, you see, and most of the available men in the area are dirt poor and not particularly respectable. . . which brings us to James Dobyne V (Chris Evans), son of a drunkard (Will Patton) and a mother who has been committed to a mental asylum. Fisher has the hots for "Jimmy" and he, while more than proper and deferential towards her, offers more to work for than any of those society fix ups Fisher's auntie can come up with.
For Fisher, Jimmy is the equivalent of a Ken doll. She sizes him up, literally, to buy him suits of clothes so that he may be properly attired for the debutante season. White tie and tuxedo, all from a night life long gone. Fisher needs a man like Jimmy on her arm, for the events her dear aunt has constructed for her and other "society proper" young ladies, bores her silly. As for Jimmy, well, a man can always use a new suit. Julie is determined to wow the scene and asks to borrow her aunt's heirloom diamond earrings . . . the pair worth a whopping $10,000 pre-Depression dollars.
It isn't that Jimmy is abusive or intentionally hurtful to Fisher. She just isn't . . . well, she just isn't Vinnie McCorkle (Jessica Collins), who works at a dime store in town and who is not unacquainted with the fine young Mr. Dobyne the Fifth. Months in to the season, with not a kiss exchanged between the two young 'uns, Fisher is snubbed by local high society. She, instead, accepts an invitation to a swanky Halloween soiree "up north" thrown by Fisher's (perhaps best female) friend Julie (Mamie Gummer). There, Jimmy and Vinnie cross paths for the first time in a long time and Fisher, having jumped out of a still rolling automobile roadster, loses one of her aunt's diamond earrings.
Have we mentioned Fisher's smart mouth? Accusations are assumed and the party, at least for our lead characters, goes off track in a way fans of Mr. Williams will adore. Indeed, all we have seen so far is all a set up to this final Act, in which Fisher finds a tincture of opium in a medicine chest and well, you know; in which a stroke enfeebled Miss Addie (Ellyn Burstyn), begs Fisher to help end her life; in which Jimmy gets to make a very interesting choice.
We've told more of the Third Act than we should. You will still, if you are into classic dramatic form, be flummoxed by the final line of the play. Yeah, it's that good.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, he would have paid . . .
Now this criticism comes only from observation. Some scenes and sequences do not flow as smoothly towards the inevitable point as we think they would have, had Williams do a minor tune up on the script written back in the early 1960s. This film is that script, just as it was and it packs a wallop. Those unfamiliar with Williams' m.o. might fidget.
[No one will ever love me but you could get used to me Jimmy.]
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