Claire Danes continues to disregard conventional wisdom, and is forging a career of variation and colour. First bursting into the public consciousness in Baz Luhrmann’s massive 1996 hit William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, her more recent work includes The Family Stone and Shopgirl, (although they followed Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines), and she will soon be seen in the big screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. Her appearance in Evening – a quiet drama of love, loss and regret – should not therefore come as a surprise, although her performance may.
If not for the work of Danes in the lead role of ‘Young Ann’, it would be easy to write off Evening as a tired and rather dull meditation on mistakes and the way one views the past. Danes is charming and elusive as best friend and maid of honour to bride Lila, and college chum and object of desire of Lila’s brother Buddy. Enter both Lila and Buddy’s long-time love interest Harris, and this is a ménage à quatre that is never going to end happily. What then happens, although foreshadowed for those who listened in the opening scenes and therefore not in any way surprising, will affect all of them for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, ‘Old Ann’ (Vanessa Redgrave) is dying and her daughters gather around to minister to her, overhearing snippets of her recollections of the events surrounding Lila’s wedding, never quite knowing whether they are real or imagined.
The lumbering pace at which the narrative flows, particularly early in the piece (and especially as we are told up front what will come), may just tempt the audience to favour sleep over waiting for the payoff. Lingering scenes of Redgrave half-dreaming her way through her youth are interesting only for seeing whether she can pull off a role with so little physicality and dialogue. (That she manages to make Ann a real character in spite of those handicaps is testament to her ability.)
Toni Collette and Natasha Richardson appear in a subplot involving the happiness or otherwise of Ann’s daughters, and this is another area in which Evening doesn’t quite succeed. Nina is forced to demonstrate ‘the message’ of the film, and things are all too tidily resolved by the end. Richardson has nothing much to do other than give Collette someone to bounce off.
There is a suggestion of an interesting film underneath all of this, and certainly a cast featuring Redgrave, Collette, Danes, Glenn Close and Meryl Streep would usually fill one with hope, but Evening never quite manages to overcome its own sense of worthiness.Rating: