For a film filled with dramatic situations, Evening is curiously devoid of drama. Sure, it contains thwarted dreams, illicit romance, taboo desires, and all the usual stuff of family melodramas. But its characters mope through their paces as if bored by their own passions. Centered largely on Vanessa Redgrave's deathbed, where she lies dreaming of events long in the past when she looked like Claire Danes, the film keeps repeating a rancid bit of would-be wisdom: "What if there were no mistakes?"
Well, let's think about it: A world with no mistakes would be one in which nothing is to be regretted, where every action, whatever the consequences, is equally right and wrong. It's a world without loss or gain, with no stakes and no reason to care. A world of "meh," right?
Directed by Hungarian cinematographer-turned-director Lajos Koltai and adapted from a Susan Minot novel by The Hours novelist Michael Cunningham, Evening plays like a terminal depressive's idea of a romantic movie. Flouncing through 1950s New England as the younger version of Redgrave's character, Danes plays a politely bohemian would-be singer attending the wedding of her well-to-do best friend Mamie Gummer. When not at Gummer's side, Danes spends her time entertaining Gummer's brother Hugh Dancy, a twitchy, hard-drinking young man nursing a not-so-secret crush on Danes. Or maybe it's really a crush on Patrick Wilson, a local doctor who's also the son of the family's former housekeeper. At any rate, Gummer definitely has a crush on Wilson, in spite of her impending nuptials. But Wilson has eyes for Danes, and he lets her know in some crummy dialogue in which they name stars after each other. Meanwhile, in the 21st century, Redgrave fades in and out of a dream state in which she chases presumably symbolic CGI butterflies, while daughter Toni Collette frets over whether she'll ever have the patience to settle down.
Koltai throws in some nice bits of photography here and there—particularly a shot of a beach-house backdrop that slowly gives way to a star-filled sky—and with a cast that includes Natasha Richardson, Glenn Close, and Meryl Streep (as the grown-up version of the character played by Gummer, Streep's real-life daughter), it isn't entirely devoid of good acting, particularly in a late-film scene between Streep and Redgrave. Yet it's hard to think of a more miserable movie in recent months. Koltai never finds a way to make his morose film move, Dancy overplays his part as if to compensate for Danes' never-more-irritating slightness, and Cunningham—such a subtle writer on the page—seems to be taking his cues from Love Story author Erich Segal. If nothing else, Evening proves that there are such things as mistakes, by featuring two hours of bad choices and half-executed ideas.