Evening

Starring Claire Danes, Vanessa Redgrave, Patrick Wilson, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close Toni Collette and Miranda Richardson. Directed by Lajos Koltai.
Running Time: 117 mins
Rated: Rated M (moderate adult themes, infrequent moderate coarse language)

For some years Hollywood has been stung by the criticism that there were few good parts for older women in contemporary films. Evening well and truly redresses that imbalance, bringing together three legendary actresses with three of the best and brightest of recent years.

It would be easy to categorise this film as a chick flick, but this would do a great disservice to Evening's achievements.

Based on the novel of the same name by Susan Minot, Evening was adapted for the screen by the author and Pulitzer Prize-winning writing Michael Cunningham.

Ann Lord (Redgrave) is dying, and as she does, she goes in and out of delirium. It is hard for her concerned daughters Constance (Richardson), a content wife and mother, and Nina (Collette), a restless single woman, to know when their mother is with it and when she's not.

A recurring theme to Ann's monologue is her calling out for the man she loved more than any other. Nina and Constance have never heard of "Harris", and so they don't know where he fits into their mother's story - if at all.

Meanwhile, in her dreams, Ann returns to Newport, Rhode Island in the summer of 1956 at Lila Wittenborn's (Mamie Gummer) wedding, who was then her best friend, when she fell in love with Harris Arden (Patrick Wilson). In the back story we meet Ann as a young woman (Danes), Mrs Winterborn (Glenn Close) and Lila's complex brother Buddy (Hugh Dancy).

Films which oscillate between stories are much harder to get right than they look. A novel can do it more easily, but films often undersell one of the component parts. Evening pulls it off both stories magnificently.

Unashamedly emotional in tone, this film explores the world of chance meetings, truth that cannot be told, regrets and consequences.

In lesser hands Evening could have descended to pure melodrama. Not so here, as director Lajos Koltai allows these actresses to realise the character in such a way that that invites, convinces and moves the audience. Meryl Streep takes forever to enter the drama as the older Lila Wittenborn, but her long scene on Ann Lord's deathbed is a moving portrait of affectionate friendship.

Editor Allyson Johnson, cinematographer Gyula Pados, art director Jordan Jacobs and Jan A Kacrmarek's music score play a vital role in the success of this film as well. It is their best work to date.

The moral centre of the film hinges around how life is not a dress rehearsal, and how we have to live with the consequences of our decisions. In fascinating twists Evening ends up being pro-life, realistically praising the fidelity of life-long marriage and celebrating the gift of children.

As Ann dies she says, "We are mysterious creatures, and then at the end so much of it turns out not to matter.' She's right. What this film might help some of us do is to name, well before death's dread moment, the people and things that make our lives worth living.

Hopscotch Out July 19

Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the director of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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