If you’d like to watch a romantic movie with multiple generations and Vanessa Redgrave, watch Letters to Juliet, which is silly but palatable. Do not watch Evening, which is self-serious and terrible.

Anne (Vanessa Redgrave) is dying. Her daughters, Connie (Natasha Richardson) and Nina (Toni Collette), come to stay with her, and notice that she starts mentioning names they have never heard. It goes without saying that Connie has a husband and kids and a Range Rover where Nina has a boyfriend in a band and a bad dye job (hers, not his), and that they are mutually awful to each other.

The audience sees the people behind these names in flashbacks: young Anne (Claire Danes), Harris (Patrick Wilson), and Buddy (Hugh Dancy). Anne’s friend Lila (Mamie Gummer) is getting married in Newport; Buddy is Lila’s brother and Harris is their housekeeper’s son, now a doctor. Anne is their impecunious artistic friend, as we learn because she’s not blonde and has heard of Greenwich Village, even though it’s the fifties. Since my dad sub-let a flat from a sitar player in the Village at about this time, and my dad is hardly an espadrille-wearing anarchist, this seems laid on a little thick. It can be galling and awkward to be a poor relation at a Newport wedding, but if the bride really wants you to be her maid of honor, you could maybe try to handle it with a little grace.

Buddy is…something. He’s constantly drunk and on the verge of writing a novel and has carried around a note from Anne for four years but kisses Harris and drunkenly jumps off a cliff but is fine. Constantly drunk and jumping off cliffs is standard Newport wedding behavior, as, probably, is being on the verge of writing a novel. One supposes that kissing Harris seems odd for the fifties, or would, if the movie didn’t have every single character stress that absolutely everyone was irresponsibly in love with Harris. So much for Buddy.

Harris, of course, is Anne’s great love too, but circumstances and expectations conspire against their eternal happiness. She regrets this on her deathbed, as she has evidently forgotten that Harris, as we have seen him, had approximately the personality of damp celery. But, of course, Anne’s choices are now being borne out in her daughters, somehow. They realize she was doing her best, and now they’re doing their best, and everything is fine. It’s offensively pat.

On a formal note, the flashbacks don’t mesh especially well, and it can be difficult to discern why, exactly, we have flashed back, or why, for instance, Eileen Atkins (as the night nurse) is now wearing an evening dress. It’s charming to have Meryl Streep play the older Lila, but not worth it for an unnecessary framing device. It’s not as bad as, say, The Notebook, but that’s only because it isn’t quite as cynical.

Stray observations:

  • They don’t even let Claire Danes commit to the ugly cry. They do let her slap people and over-dramatize herself, though.
  • Why did Glenn Close sign up to be Lila’s mom? Any actress could have done that part.
  • Seriously, you don’t have to be poor and artistic to have the capacity to feel. And name-checking The Great Gatsby doesn’t fix the hackneyed way you’ve dealt with class.
  • A character is hit by a car, and a bridesmaid observes, in scarily flat tones: “Oh my goodness, the blood, it’s everywhere.” That’s the worst piece of dialogue, but the rest of the movie runs a close second.

Director: Lajos Koltai
Rating: PG-13
Length: 117 minutes
Score: 2/5

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