United States, 2007
U.S. Release Date:
PG-13 (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio:
Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Vanessa Redgrave, Patrick Wilson, Hugh Dancy, Natasha Richardson, Mamie Gummer, Eileen Atkins, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close
Susan Minot and Michael Cunningham, based on the novel by Minot
Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
Evening, based on the 1998 bestseller by Susan Minot, is an example of a well-told familiar story. There are no surprises during the course of the film, which transpires across two time frames (1954 and 1998), but the strength of the screenplay and acting provide a satisfying, although not overwhelming, two hours of romance, drama, and tragedy. Longtime cinematographer-turned-director Lajos Koltai has fashioned the movie in such a way that it feels literate. Everything from the cinematography to the editing to the score has been calculated to remind us that this is an example of literature come to life on the screen. Those in search of traditional summertime fare need not apply.
It's 1954 and Ann Grant (Claire Danes) has traveled to coastal Maine for the wedding of her best friend, Lila Wittenborn (Mamie Gummer). While there, she is smitten by a young doctor, Harris Arden (Patrick Wilson), but her liaison with him is doomed from the start. Not only that, but it has dire consequences for Lila's brother, Buddy (Hugh Dancy). 45 years later, Ann (now played by Vanessa Redgrave) lies abed in her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, dying from cancer. She is attended by a no-nonsense nurse (Eileen Atkins) and her two daughters, Nina (Toni Collette) and Constance (Natasha Richardson). In her half-coherent ramblings, she mentions the name "Harris," and this puts Nina into detective mode. When Lila (Meryl Streep) arrives, having heard that her good friend is on death's door, she provides information for Nina and comfort for Ann in her last hours.
As is often the case with movies that span dual time periods, one of the stories is more interesting than the other. In this case, it's the 1954 segment, which is given slightly more screen time and a lot more depth than the contemporary portion. Frankly, it's not all that compelling to watch someone lying in bed dying (even if that someone is played by Vanessa Redgrave in top form), and the minor subplots featuring Nina and Constance don't capture the attention. Young Ann, however, is a well-formed character, and her relationship with Harris provides as much steam and passion as a PG-13 rating will allow.
The cast is as close to a female dream team as you're likely to find. Respected actresses Vanessa Redgrave, Glenn Close, and Meryl Streep all make appearances, along with Eileen Atkins and Toni Collette. The lead goes to Claire Danes, who has shown growth and maturity as an actress in her post-college roles. In a case of effective casting, Streep and her real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer, play the same character in youth and in old age. Natasha Richardson, Redgrave's real-life daughter, plays Ann's daughter. Given the care given to verisimilitude in these situations, it's odd that the producers paired Danes and Redgrave as Ann, since the two bear no obvious physical resemblance.
Similarities to The Notebook are worth remarking upon, since this is designed for the same audience. Both involve contemporary characters looking back on experiences during which they meet the loves of their lives. The Notebook is a more of a tearjerker and a melodrama. Evening possesses a quiet dignity. The film is sad, but its approach is low key and it doesn't resort to the shameless manipulation that marred The Notebook's final act. There are no surprises. We know exactly how this is going to end, both in 1954 (because we're told so at the outset) and in 1998 (because there's no other way the movie can conclude), yet the fulfillment of expectations does not dilute the movie's emotional effectiveness.