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Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

1 stars

In 1957, Tennessee Williams penned an original screenplay entitled “The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond,” a Southern Gothic melodrama (duh!) that was going to be directed by Elia Kazan (with whom he had previously collaborated on the film versions of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Baby Doll”) and star Julie Harris. For whatever reasons, the project never came together and the screenplay was put in a drawer somewhere and forgotten about for several decades until it was rediscovered and put into production under the direction of first-time filmmaker Jodie Markell and with rising star Bryce Dallas Howard in the lead. For fans of Williams, the chance to experience a brand new work from the late writer more than a quarter-century after his passing would seem to be like a gift from the literary god but in this case, it is definitely a gift where you hope that someone saved the receipt. This is a terrible and terribly dated work that will strike Williams scholars as the cinematic equivalent of a bottle cap and everyone else as arguably the worst version of one of his works to ever hit the big screen and bear in mind, I have seen “Boom.”

Set in Memphis in the late 1920’s, the story kicks off with the return of rebellious heiress Fisher Willow (Howard), complete with a matched set of emotional baggage that includes a drinking problem, a brief stay in an institution and the enmity of most of the townspeople over the sins of her father, to the family plantation after a sojourn in Italy in order to placate her scandalized aunt (Ann-Margret) and to ensure that she is not disinherited. To pull this off, Fisher agrees to take part in the upcoming debutante season and attend all the swank parties and goings-on. Of course, to do this requires a partner and the always-spirited (and spirit-laden) Fisher disregards her aunt’s choice of an escort and instead asks Jimmy Dobyne (Chris Evans), a poor-but-hunky plantation employee with his own collection of baggage--a drunken father (Will Patton), an insane mother and a pesky sense of self-righteousness--to squire her around. For a while, all goes swimmingly until a fateful Halloween party thrown by longtime friend Julie (Mamie Gummer) in which the combination of booze, gossip, the arrival of an old flame of Jimmy’s (Jessica Collins) and the disappearance of an earring worth $5000 threatens to destroy their hopes for happiness.

If I had to guess, I would say that the reason that Williams never tried to revive this project after it initially fell through is that even he recognized that it was sub par writing on his part. Everything about the script--the story, the characters and especially the ridiculously flowery dialogue (in this film, one doesn’t merely confess to an opium addiction--they prattle on endlessly about “the smoke of the burning poppy”)--feels less like an actual Williams manuscript and more like someone trying to write either a homage to his work or a parody. The material also feels incredibly dated--what may have come across as shocking in 1957 now only seems quaint--and Markell bizarrely approaches the material as if she were making it in the late Fifties by continuing to keep material that might have once raised eyebrows largely under wraps. My guess is that after somehow managing to get the rights to film the screenplay, she was so cowed by it that she was unwilling to make any changes to it that might have allowed it to live and breathe on the screen. The result is a work that is so reverential towards the material that it quickly succumbs to a pace that would require the application of 10,000 volts to boost it up to the level of torpid--although the proceedings begin with the sight of our heroine staggering about, let it be said that the film soon catches up with her.

Not even a relatively decent cast can do much to help move the proceedings along--the fact that Chris Evans turns in arguably the best performance (mostly because of the lowered expectations inspired by his presence) should be an indication of how bad the others are. Bryce Dallas Howard is an excellent actress--anyone who can somehow survive appearances in films by both Lars von Trier and M. Night Shyamalan must have something going on--but she is pretty awful here; her performance feels like the kind of high-school theatrics that can only be found at a high school where the drama program was cut due to a lack of funding. Mamie Gummer is another good young actress but she comes across throughout like a smiling simp whose friendship with Fisher seems wildly improbable. Normally reliable performers like Will Patton and Ann-Margret briefly show up in broadly overacted turns before mercifully disappearing. Finally, Ellen Burstyn turns up as a once-fiery Southern belle laid low by a series of strokes and an opium addiction who nevertheless manages to muster the strength to monologue endlessly at Fisher, whom she considers to be a kindred spirit, in the hopes of inspiring the younger woman to put her out of her misery once and for all. Trust me, by the time this development occurs, you’ll more than sympathize with her and pray that there is enough morphine to go around.

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originally posted: 01/08/10 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

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  30-Dec-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 07-Sep-2010


  DVD: 07-Sep-2010

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