Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/01/07 18:53:25

"The "Transformers" of Chick Movies"
1 stars (Sucks)

You know how on “The Simpsons” or “Family Guy,” they will sometimes do a parody of a movie genre by offering up a “clip” that jams in as many cliches as humanly possible? The new melodramatic chick flick (a term I ordinarily am loathe to use but I fear no other can possibly do it justice) “Evening” feels like a live-action version of one of those spoofs with only two minor differences. The first is that while the TV versions usually only last for about 30 seconds before Homer does something stupid or Peter makes some out-of-left-field comment that exists only to launch another random non-sequitur (“Wow, I haven’t seen this much suffering since I was a member of Megaforce!”), this one drags on for two full hours. The second is that those clips are usually at least somewhat entertaining and funny while this one is an embarrassing slog that strands an large number of talented actresses in a meandering morass of cliches that almost makes “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” seem palatable by comparison.

The movie kicks off with its central character, Ann Lord (Vanessa Redgrave), preparing to kick off from one of those movie diseases where people lie on clean linen sheets and are either frighteningly incoherent or poetically lucid, depending on the needs of the screenplay for each scene. In her final days, she is being cared for by her two grown daughters, Nina (Toni Collette) and Constance (Natasha Richardson), but since the two have chosen this particular time to snipe at each other because of their differences–Constance is one of those have-it-all women with the perfect husband, child and life while Nina fears making a commitment to anything–Ann is presumably trying as hard as possible to hasten her shuffling off of this mortal coil. One day, amongst her snufflings, Ann mentions a heretofore unknown person named Harris, describes him as “my first mistake” and then caps things off with the even more enigmatic remark “Harris and I killed Buddy.” For no apparent reason, Nina seizes upon these remarks and makes it her personal mission to noodge her dying mother until she cough up some more information and before you know it, the film begins to merge the present-day material to flashbacks to a day 50 years earlier that would Change Her Life Forever.

In these flashbacks, we see Ann (now played by Claire Danes), here a free spirit eking out a living as a singer in the Village (she keeps telling us that it is Greenwich but she is so fundamentally boring that it might as well be that pseudo-Amish throwback from the infamous M. Night Shyamalan boondoggle), arriving in Newport to see blue-blooded college roommate Lila (Mamie Gummer) get married to another swell. Alas, Lila is tormented because while she is vaguely fond of her betrothed, she is really in love with Harris (Patrick Wilson), the hunky doctor that she has known ever since they were kids and his mother worked as a servant for her mother (Glenn Close). Of course, once Ann gets a load of the walking Dewar’s Profile, she begins crushing on him as well. The only one willing to speak out about this grave injustice, however, is the walking Tragic Symbol that is Lila’s brother, Buddy (Hugh Dancy), who is so aghast that his sister is willing to forsake True Love for comfort and security and embarrasses everyone with a series of drunken proclamations–if that weren’t enough, he appears to be nursing unrequited crushes on both Ann and Harris (and Lila too, for all I know) as well. As you can probably guess, it all ends in an orgy of truth-telling, furtive glances, clandestine ruttings, tearful breakdowns and horrible tragedies–in other words, pretty much like your typical Newport society wedding.

Lacking explosions, car chases or scenes of extensive torture (unless you count the tortures undergone by unsuspecting audiences in the mood for some cinematic counter-programming), “Evening” is being hyped in the media as being from the creators of “The Hours.” That isn’t precisely true–the author of that book, Michael Cunningham, merely co-wrote the screenplay with Susan Minot, the author of the original novel–but the resulting film is so agonizingly boring and pretentious that it might as well have been. Neither one of the two parallel storylines are even remotely interesting–instead of offering up a new twist on familiar material, both of them traffic in the kind of cliches that are so hackneyed that I thought that they didn’t exist anymore outside of the realm of parody. As for the intermingling of the two time lines, director Lajos Koltai (the former cinematographer whose previous directorial effort, “Fateless,” was an art-house hit last year) handles the transitions in an amazingly clumsy manner–instead of gracefully segueing between past and present, we are constantly being jerked from one dull storyline to an even duller storyline without any sort of rhyme, reason or rhythm. There are also stand-alone scenes that come across so badly that you wonder how anyone could have possibly thought that they were a good idea–I’m thinking of the bit where Harris cheerfully steps on Ann’s big moment by barging onto the stage uninvited to turn her rendition of “Time After Time” into a duet (a move that she inexplicably finds charming instead on annoying), the moment in which the film shifts into Potential Tragedy mode by showing a bunch of clods (including the recently truth-told Buddy) indulging in the Newport post-wedding tradition of drunken cliff diving and the moment when the Real Tragedy occurs, a moment so ineptly conceived and executed that even the late Harold Robbins might have given it a rewrite instead of sending it out as is.

In essence, “Evening” is little different from those soapy programmers churned out by Universal-International back in the 1950's. One difference between those films and “Evening,” however, is that the earlier efforts were basically used as a refuge for contract players along the lines of Lana Turner, Rock Hudson and Troy Donahue while “Evening” is choked with top-flight actors who are stuck playing uninteresting ciphers–let’s just say that the IV’s aren’t the only drips on display. A couple emerge relatively unscathed–Vanessa Redgrave somehow manages to retain her dignity and Mamie Gummer (whose preternatural resemblance to a young Meryl Streep can be easily explained by the fact that she is Streep’s real-life daughter) manages to hold her own in her big-screen debut. As for the others, the usually reliable Claire Danes is doubly damned because a.) she is playing a character that simply isn’t believable for a second and b.) she is supposed to be a young Vanessa Redgrave and that is even less believable than her character. Toni Collette and Natasha Richardson (who is Redgrave’s real-life daughter) are both so stridently unlikeable as the bickering daughters that you may find yourself involuntarily groaning every time the time frame switches back to the present day. Patrick Wilson, who was so good in the recent “Little Children,” utterly fails to suggest why any of the other characters would carry a torch for him for the duration of a weekend, let alone mumble about him a half-century down the line. (His barely-awake demeanor is less suggestive of smoldering sensuality than it is of an incipient case of mono.) The worst performance of the bunch, however, comes from Glenn Close, whose bizarre depiction of a Newport matriarch almost has to be seen to be disbelieved–the moment towards the end when she is required to display shock and grief is so eye-rollingly bad that if she had actually won an Oscar at some point during her otherwise illustrious career, the Academy might have demanded its return based on that scene alone.

The only dramatic tension to be had in “Evening” comes from wondering when the top-billed Meryl Streep, playing the older version of Lila is going to finally deign to show up. She eventually comes in towards the very end–sort of like John Wayne in “The Greatest Story Ever Told”–to have a brief (and, to be fair, reasonably touching) scene with Redgrave and offer a few homilies (and a few plain lies) to Toni Collette before being whisked off by a waiting cab. Most audiences, I suspect, will no doubt be left wishing that a.) she could have shown up earlier since she is arguably the only complete worthwhile element in the film and b.) that they could have hopped in the cab with her and high-tailed it into another, better film.

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