Itís almost comically appropriate that the opening scene of Evening involves a character gazing upon a vision of herself as a young woman, as few stories have ever danced so effortlessly with feminine self-absorption. As the still luminous Vanessa Redgrave (playing Ann Grant) approaches the shore, her other self stares pensively ahead while draped in a sailboat. Add to that an aching sky teeming with fireflies, and all the ingredients are in place for either an eruption of feeling, or a pretentious slog through lost loves, tear-filled compromises, and deathbed realizations. Given the cast — Redgrave, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Toni Collette, Natasha Richardson — it would seem that at the very least, the sheer force of talent would†envelop the banalities, but here is proof enough that even the greatest actors of stage and screen canít overcome pompous idiocy. No mere chick flick, Evening reduces the lives of all women to the man that got away, assuming that the greatest tragedy to befall the fairer sex is not war, rape, famine, or even the death of a child, but rather the blown opportunity to spend eternity with the squarest jaw in Christendom. Women are forever chasing this first, best love, it seems, and if denied to them, they will spend their days pining, hoping, wishing, and enduring loveless marriages and doomed relationships evermore. Itís more than a cloistered life; itís as if this little patch of Rhode Island real estate were all that was left of a worldwide catastrophe in which every single human being of semiconscious interest died long ago. In their stead, we have twits, drunkards, and fools alike, chattering away while the rest of the world passes them by. Itís a white, privileged, bloodless universe, and asking us to give a shit for a hair under two hours is one of the most unreasonable requests Iíve ever been tendered.
Needless to say, the story alternates from past to present, Iím guessing to ensure that we fully inhale Annís shallow sham of a life from two distinct vantage points. At least Redgrave has it easy, though, as she does little more than rot away in bed while occasionally getting up to chase moths like a lunatic. Played as a girl by the impossibly annoying Claire Danes, Ann would have us believe sheís a rebel from Greenwich Village (those arenít acceptable shoes for an upper-crust wedding, my dear), when in fact sheís as plastic and dull as the bluebloods she mingles with during that fateful weekend so long ago. Sheís in town to act as a maid of honor for her school chum Lila (Mamie Gummer), who is marrying Carl (Timothy Kiefer), the sort of man who is all wrong for her because he doesnít take walks through the woods and name stars after his sweetheart. Ah, but Harris (Patrick Wilson) is just such a fella, and to listen to these broads — past and present — youíd think (hope)†he at least found the cure for cancer. Instead, heís all hunk, and despite being a doctor, heís a cipher so hilariously thin that you half expect him to rock back and forth whenever called upon to produce a coherent thought. But he is in fact the center of all this, as he effortlessly seduces every woman he meets, Iím guessing because he has the decency to push a womanís hair out of her face whenever necessary. He had been Lilaís love for many years (she yearned, he didnít), but now he is falling for Ann, even though Ann is the secret love of Buddy (Hugh Dancy), who just might be gay, as he kissed Harris in a drunken rage. Itís a complicated weekend, to be sure, though one that could have been made much easier had those involved paused and realized that falling in love just might require more than handholding by the shore.
And so the wedding continues, despite the fact that it is clearly a mistake, and we come to learn that thereís still more love lost and dreams deferred. Before you know it, Buddy is making an alcohol-soaked toast that embarrasses everyone, especially the father, who has no dialogue to speak of, yet is given no less than five close-ups, all of which reveal a stern, disapproving man of regal bearing. The matriarch is played by Ms. Close, who has clearly spent her off years being pulled tighter than a Marineís bed sheets, and her scenes consist of nothing more than being as stereotypically stuffy as possible. She does everything but offer her guests tea. By the end, when sheís asked to ďact,Ē she dissolves into a bucket of tears, providing a mournful cry so off-putting that I nearly left the theater in hysterics. At that point, I didn’t need an excuse. Still, sheís not asked to do much, and so answers with very little, and she now has something to book end the Dalmatian movies on her personal wall of shame. Sheís supposed to be the first in a long line of women who did what was expected of them rather than what they truly desired, but after one look at this vast estate, I do wonder what would have been considered an improvement. Did she too marry for convenience rather than love? Perhaps, but can we agree that this will be the final movie where such a thing is considered tragic? When poets and dreamers suggest that love is all you need, keep in mind that their scribblings are made possible by trust funds, not come-hither glances by moonlight.
As this is a summer day long ago, someone has to die, and the predictable victim is Buddy, the sad little rich man who is run over by a car while chasing Ann and Harris through the trees. Even more touching, his death grip clutched a piece of paper containing a bit of Annís writing from those carefree college years. OK, so Harris looks pretty damn good with a shirt off, but what is Annís deal? What accounts for her effect on the men folk? For starters, sheís a singer, though her wedding song sounded more like a funeral dirge for my money. Her tentative, flat tones were enough to earn her a living, though, and as we are reminded again and again in the present, Ann felt so very guilty for dragging her two daughters to smoky nightclubs and seedy jazz joints. Still, I would have expected nothing less from the likes of Ann, as practical employment always manages to elude the very type most apt to curse the heavens over a chipped fingernail as the world burns. And after we meet Annís brood (Constance and Nina, played by Richardson and Collette, respectively), we can see that if sheís passed along anything, it is the fanatical push to self-obsess until the head explodes. Nina is†morose and rudderless, while Constance lives the dream of a happy home, while also forced to live with the unspeakable tragedy of knowing that healthy kids, a good husband, and a rewarding career might not be enough to find fulfillment. Itís never confirmed that she missed out on some well-built football player from high school or something, but if I had to make a prediction, Iím guessing the man sheís with is not the man she truly wants. And we wonder why†the gents†want to run away every chance they get.
By the end, when Meryl Streep finally shows up to bring some class to the whole rotten enterprise, we are so lost and indifferent that it takes us a second to realize that Ann is just about dead upstairs. Itís a long-awaited fade-out, as she has spent her final hours doing little but rehashing old memories and tired anecdotes. Yes, Ann, we know that Harris was very handsome. Oh, he moved to a small town and married a nurse, did he? Well, I never. Sang at Lilaís wedding, did we? Oh my yes, it was a beautiful affair. Of course you were the loveliest creature I ever did see. That dress? Iíll never forget it, my dear. Reduced to skin, bones, and advanced dementia, Annís sole concern is forcing those unfortunate enough to be in smelling distance to back off and bask in the light of a woman who lived, dammit, despite the odds. What did she accomplish? What is her legacy to the world? Precious little, Iím afraid, except for the convenient realization that ďthere are no mistakes.Ē This sounds a little too much like making virtue out of necessity for my taste, but maybe the old batís entitled to a little rationalization now that sheís on the verge of a dirt nap. Maybe not. After all, how many people do whatever the hell they want their entire lives and still assert that theyíve been helplessly carried along on lifeís turbulent sea? Itís a curious type of person indeed, and I canít fathom why we continue to make movies about them. If just one of these broads understood that disappointment comes only through expectation, then maybe the inspiration would infect our collective bloodstream and put an end to all this silliness. At long last.