"Doing what needs to be done" is the message of "Evening," an intimate and androgynous melodrama of lost love tangled in the bonds of family and friendship. The film is directed by Lajos Koltai and taken from Susan Minot's novel. She collaborated with director Bernardo Bertolucci in 1995's "Stealing Beauty" with Liv Tyler and Jeremy Irons. This time out, Minot and Koltai have acquired the Pulitzer Prize winning talents of Michael Cunningham ("The Hours") to assist with the adaptation of "Evening."
If the director and writers seem well-qualified, get a load of the cast: Claire Danes, Vanessa Redgrave, Toni Collette, Glenn Close, Natasha Richardson, Patrick Wilson, Hugh Dancy, and, oh yes, forgive me: Meryl Streep and Mamie Gummer, who just happens to be the real life daughter of Ms. Streep just as Ms. Richardson is the daughter of Ms. Redgrave. What, no Danner and Paltrow?
"Evening" swings back and forth in time but not space from 1957 to the present. Redgrave and Danes both play the same character: Ann Grant. Redgrave's Ann is about to die, while Danes' Ann, at 25, is sorting out what she wants from her life, especially in terms of men and a singing career. Ann in her 80s is trying to sort out why she made the choices she did way back then when everyone liked Ike.
Old Ann has two grown daughters, Connie (Richardson) and Nina (Collette). Connie is settled and married. Nina is in a relationship with a guy who adores her and has made her pregnant, however, as the film begins, Nina hasn't told anyone. She's undecided about what to do.
Then there are young Ann's friends: Lila (Gummer), who is soon to marry someone she doesn't love and Buddy (Dancy), Lila's brother who seems to love everyone including Harris (Wilson). In fact, three people are bonkers over the craggy Harris: Ann, Lila and Buddy, and why not the ladies and Buddy, as well? Patrick Wilson ("Angels in America" and "Little Children") is, for totally sure, the Paul Newman of the 21st century even if Joanne Woodward doesn't think so.
Meryl Streep plays the elder Lila in tandem with her real daughter and, in the 50s segments of the film, Glenn Close has the curious honor of playing Mrs. Wittenborn, mother of Lila (Meryl Streep and Mamie Gummer). A character's road map might have been given some consideration by Focus Features for those of us who haven't read the novel. Albeit, the script is reasonably clear about who's who in "Evening."
All the principal roles have their special moments in the film and all performances are first rate. My favorites are the ones given by Collette, Streep and Gummer. You may favor a different set of actors here, but I'm sure we can agree that all the acting is at a high caliber.
A lesser but very powerful character in "Evening" is the night nurse, Mrs. Brown, played by Eileen Atkins. Mrs. Brown appears sparingly in the film, but her presence, understanding and compassion for old Ann about to die bring some of the most grounding moments to be seen in "Evening." In one of old Ann's hallucinatory lapses, she sees Mrs. Brown at her bedside clad in a white evening dress. This scene must surely be a metaphor of Mrs. Brown as Ann's empathetic Angel of Death in waiting.
I would like to nit-pick a couple of roles, though. Hugh Dancy's Buddy might have worked better if it had been played less big and, at moments, I felt that Claire Danes got perilously close to ditsy. Ann's dream to be a successful American popular songstress a la Peggy Lee is clearly not in the cards. It's evident that Ann doesn't have that kind of talent as she sings Sammy Cahn's and Jule Styne's "Time After Time." Publicity has it that it's actually sung by Claire Danes. I like Claire Danes a lot. She's a fine actor with a striking face, but she's no Peggy Lee or Diana Krall.
Another booted musical moment heard in "Evening" is the cover recording used in an impromptu dance scene with Ann and Buddy. It's the late 50s. The song is "I've Got The World On A String." And, hello: the singer ISN'T FRANK SINATRA?! I guess the Sinatra estate wouldn't come down on the copyright price for the film's producers. The scene is flat because it ain't Frank singing while Ann and Buddy cut a rug.
But don't let any of that keep you from buying a ticket to see "Evening." It's an engaging and touching film that also shows us Patrick Wilson has some range in talent. The two most significant roles I've seen him in are the gay Mormon in "Angels in America" and the unmotivated law student/husband/father in "Little Children." In "Evening," he's seen as a cool, confident hero type guy much like the characters usually played through the years by Paul Newman.
Hey, move over Matthew McConaughey!