Chick flicks are like any other movie genre--western, sci-fi, or monster pics--capable of inspired craftsmanship and occasional greatness. Evening should have been one of the great ones. It boasts a fabulous cast--Meryl Streep, Vanessa Redgrave, Glenn Close, Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Natasha Richardson, Mamie Gummer, and Eileen Atkins--plus two terrific screenwriters: Susan Minot, who wrote the source novel, and The Hours novelist Michael Cunningham, who helped her adapt it. Instead itís an excruciating bore.
Much of the blame must go to Lajos Koltai, the longtime Hungarian cinematographer who is directing his first American production. You know those posters of dewy, winged fairies and moon-faced angels and Maxfield Parrish goddesses that adorn freshman dorm walls? Koltai stages every scene as if it might produce such an image. He bathes Danesí young cabaret singer in garishly pink light from a sunset as if that might make her look enviably romantic. He has her walk hand in hand with Patrick Wilson through a forest of giant oaks in the misty dusk as if she were in a fairy tale. Koltai even has Redgrave rise from her dying bed and chase a glowing moth through the house as if she were in a Lunesta ad. And because the actresses are treated like mere props in Koltaiís posters, and because he jumps from one poster to the next, these great performers never get to develop a scene, never get to develop into real people.
The story begins with two grown daughters (Collette and Richardson) standing by the bed of their dying mother (Redgrave), who is babbling that she and Harris killed Buddy. The daughters have never heard of Harris or Buddy, but soon Koltai whisks the movie back to the late 1950s, when the motherís younger self (Danes) arrived in Newport, R.I., to be the maid of honor at the wedding of her best friend from college (Gummer).
Danes fell in love with Harris (Wilson), son of the familyís former housekeeper, but the bride was also in love with Harris, even as she was preparing to marry someone else. This love triangle soon becomes a pentangle as the brideís younger brother Buddy (Hugh Dancy) and the best man (David Furr) both fall for Danes. With rich, snobby parents in the background and hard-drinking twentysomethings all around--and with Collette and Richardson coping with their own problems in the present--thereís plenty of kindling here for an entertaining melodrama.
But Koltai can never get the kindling to ignite. He throws in twinkling fireflies, vintage cabaret standards, and gorgeous seascapes, anything to spark a flame. But the fireflies are obvious CGI fakery, the standards arenít very well sung, and the nature scenes are betrayed by heavy-handed lighting. Koltai keeps flicking his useless cigarette lighter, and before long you just want it all to be over.