A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the subject matter of this romantic drama -- mortality and pining for a lost love -- is profoundly sad. The relationships are complicated, bordering on scandalous (a love triangle between two men and a woman emerges, and one character who's about to be married propositions another on the eve of her wedding), and a thick pall of regret and death hangs over the film, which may be tough for young viewers to process. There's also plenty of drinking and smoking (not unexpected, given the '50s setting), and some cursing (mostly mild, with one notable use of "f--k"). If you're expecting the movie to be just like the book on which it's based, you may be disappointed.
What's the story?
Jumping between the present and the past, EVENING tells the story of Ann (Vanessa Redgrave), a woman on the precipice of death. Bedridden in body but not in spirit, she keeps turning over in her mind the events of a long-ago weekend as if they were well-worn rocks she picked up and just can't let go. Meanwhile, her daughters (Natasha Richardson and Toni Collette) don't know what to make of her ramblings. If they could, they'd know Ann was remembering the mid-1950s, when she was a young New York City jazz singer (played by Claire Danes) attending the ritzy wedding of her best friend, Lila (Mamie Gummer, who displays glimmers of her mother Meryl Streep's genius acting skills), at a grand, old-money mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. Lila's unsure about whether she loves her betrothed; her father worries over her younger brother, Buddy's (Hugh Dancy), drinking; and Buddy seems intent on sousing his way into a stupor. Ann arrives determined to be a good bridesmaid, but she ends up waltzing into complications of her own. Happily ever after isn't meant to be, and, decades later, Ann wonders in the fevered haze of life's end game whether she made a big "mistake."
Is it any good?
How disappointing, how maddening it is to watch a film that has such potential for greatness but winds up only middling. Such is the case with EVENING, a drama based on writer Susan Minot's acclaimed novel of the same name -- the acting is great (how could it not be, with a cast like it has?), but in many other ways it misses the mark. Clearly, there's plenty of material to work with here, and cinematographer Gyula Pados' moody palette serves it well. But the film's potency takes a while to build and is diluted by too much back-and-forth time shifting. The pace slackens just when tension should build and cuts away when emotions grow overwhelming. And although there's an embarrassment of talent here -- Streep, Redgrave, and Glenn Close under one cinematic roof! -- there are simply too many people to keep track of in so little time. It's hard to be invested in a story when you don't know much about what motivates its characters.
Which brings up perhaps Evening's most egregious flaw: Harris (Patrick Wilson). Ostensibly the love of Ann's life (and everyone else's, too -- more than one character says "we were all in love with Harris"), he comes across here as, well, somewhat of a drip. (Patrick Wilson was much sexier and more compelling in Little Children). Ann tells him that he's "the most serious man she has ever met." She says this with affection, but the fact is that although he's attractive, he's quite uninteresting. Then again, this may actually bolster Minot's point (or at least that of screenwriter Michael Cunningham, who shares writing credit). As an older Lila (played by Streep) says, "We are mysterious creatures, aren't we? But in the end, so much of it turns out not to matter." Perhaps it is not Harris who matters, but Ann herself.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the movie presents love and regret. Do your kids think soul mates exist? Families can also discuss the way the film depicts death. Does Ann's long and somewhat tortured goodbye seem like a burden or a blessing to her children? Also, for those who have read Susan Minot's book, why do you think this movie is so different from its inspiration?
- In theaters: June 29, 2007
- On DVD or streaming: September 25, 2007
- Cast: Claire Danes, Hugh Dancy, Vanessa Redgrave
- Director: Lajos Koltai
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 117 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements, sexual material, a brief accident scene and language.
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