Thursday, Feb 22, 2018
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Stars, many of them related, sparkle in uneven drama

Evening is the movie that should have opened Mother's Day weekend.

It's the chickiest of chick flicks, starring two sets of real-life moms and daughters. Vanessa Redgrave and Natasha Richardson portray mother and adult child, and Meryl Streep and Mamie Gummer play the same character, but at different ages and stages.

Evening, based on the 1998 Susan Minot novel of the same name, is a fluid film that moves from past to present, from dreams to waking states, from remorse to no regret.

The movie opens with a dying woman named Ann Lord (Redgrave) and her two daughters at her bedside. Constance (Richardson) is a calm, content wife and mother, and Nina (Toni Collette) a single woman with red streaks in her dark hair and a restless streak in her life.

When Ann, who moves in and out of sleep, memory, dreams and a drug-induced haze, starts talking about someone named Harris, the younger women are confused. Who's Harris?

"Harris was my first mistake," their mother confides. "Your first mistake is like your first kiss. You never forget it."

Ann drifts back to the 1950s, when she was a young New Yorker (now played by Claire Danes) arriving in swanky Newport, R.I., for the wedding of Lila (Gummer), a college friend. Lila's family is strictly old money, and their summer place is a magnificent mansion perched at water's edge.

The bride's brother, Buddy (Hugh Dancy), tries to enlist Ann in convincing Lila to call off the wedding. Buddy has some issues of his own, starting with a drinking problem that alarms even the champagne-soaked society swells. Hovering on the fringe of all this is a family friend named Harris (Patrick Wilson).

As the flashbacks show us what happened to the principal players at the wedding, we witness the bubbling tension between the sisters. "If you go on being the bad girl there's a very real chance you'll end up alone," Connie warns Nina, who stands at a crossroad herself.

Evening, directed by Budapest na-tive Lajos Koltai, falls into predictable, melodramatic traps but is elevated by the acting.

Like Away From Her star Julie Christie, the 70-year-old Redgrave is a portrait of aging beauty, with gray hair and forehead lines that haven't been erased with a syringe of Botox. Makeup adds a decade to Streep, 58, in a way that's convincing but certainly not Devil Wears Prada glamorous.

Although it's hard to buy Danes as a younger Redgrave (when the Oscar winner's own daughter with Tony Richardson is right there), both women have a spark about them.

If Redgrave, Danes, and Streep - not to mention Richardson and Collette - weren't enough of an attraction, throw in Glenn Close as a society matron and Eileen Atkins as a night nurse.

Evening, adapted by Minot and The Hours novelist Michael Cunningham, feels as if it's been compressed. You can sense something's missing.

In the book, Ann has five children, and while two daughters make for a tidier tale, they have a history that's only hinted at. Harris remains something of a mysteryious presence, too, even as the story shows us a scene Ann wouldn't have witnessed but would have imagined.

Evening is an imperfect movie told with delicacy, and Redgrave is the glue that holds it together, contributing grace, restraint, and a touch of class.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Barbara Vancheri is the movie editor for the Post-Gazette.

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