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Friday, Feb. 22, 2008
'CHICK FLICK' FAILS TO MAKE MARK
Women being women — as usual
By KAORI SHOJI
Lest we forget what it is to be a woman, there's always the chick flick to remind us exactly what this may imply. In the case of "Evening," the implying rather has the effect of a tidal wave. There they are, all the usual suspects: love (unrequited and otherwise), weddings, marriages, careers, motherhood, sisterhood.
"Evening" tastefully portrays these issues and does it up in a pristine package with a brittle edge here and there, no doubt to stress the elements of tragedy and disappointment that inevitably occur in a woman's life. Oh man! Or should that be oh woman!? In any case, "Evening" is so formulaic as to border on presumptuousness. Surely women have preoccupations besides these tried and true themes. Surely they can talk of things other than personal happiness and men.
"Evening's" screenplay was penned by novelist Susan Minot, whose works about modern women and their desires (she is best known for a collection of short stories called "Lust") strike a fine balance between aggression and insecurity, demure inhibition and seductive audacity. The stinging subtlety of her prose, however, fails to translate to the screen. So much of "Evening" is a confused (albeit pretty) collage of fragments of emotion, moments of passion and teary outbursts that leave no marks.
"Oh well, I'll get over it," says a young woman, crying for a lost love on the day of her wedding and this, it seems, is the refrain on everyone else's lips. "I'll get over it," these women say, and move on with the business of living, which consists of marriage, career and children — the cannot-be-avoided components of the feminine existence according to this and millions of other films in the chick-flick genre.
Having said so, it's difficult not to savor and enjoy "Evening" because of its amazing cast. Vanessa Redgrave and Meryl Streep star as Anne and Lila: two well-off, stately New England women who share a painful memory.
They haven't seen each other in 40 years, when Lila (Streep) visits Anne (Redgrave) as she lies dying, and without much sentiment or fuss, simply climbs into her bed to reminisce about the men that were dear to them both. It's a poignant, masterful scene, brilliantly engineered by two of cinema's most treasured actresses.
Claire Danes plays Anne when she was young and maid of honor for Lila (played by Streep's real-life daughter Mamie Gummer) and the story gently slides back and forth between Lila's long-ago wedding weekend and the present day.
Anne is delirious, attended by a night nurse (Eileen Atkins) and her two daughters, Nina (Toni Collette) and Connie (Redgrave's daughter Natasha Richardson). They're slightly miffed by the fact that Anne clearly remembers every detail of Lila's wedding and her role in it, but is confused about the identities of her daughters. But when they discover that the friendship between Anne and Lila had been marred forever by the death of Lila's brother, Buddy (Hugh Dancy), and that Anne had a passionate infatuation with Buddy's friend Harris (Patrick Wilson), and that these events all took place on the wedding weekend, they're fascinated by these never-seen aspects of their mother.
The feisty Nina responds by wanting to know more about Anne's past; Connie looks at her mother and is reminded of her own disappointments in life and love.
In the meantime, Anne is reliving a long-lost summer weekend in which she was young and spirited, loved by her best friend Lila and Buddy — locked in a romantic, platonic menage a trois while being dazzled by the stunning Harris ("but he was only a man, but mind you he was a very good-looking one," chuckles Lila 40 years later).
It's all a bit inconsequential and prettified beyond belief — given the themes of senility and regret the story could be a lot more prickly than it is. But a kind of Victorian decorum enshrouds the proceedings and Anne's (supposedly) harrowing illness is illustrated with nothing more than a fluffy white nightgown and a face minus makeup, her mind and heart in sweet pursuit of one man who died young and another who got away. Not a bad way for a woman to make an exit.