Based on a novel of the same name, adapted for the screen by its author, Susan Minot, and possessed of a cast that amounts to a chick flick super-group, Evening has all the advantages one might hope for. It's a shame, then, that it doesn't quite fulfill its potential.

Claire Danes and Vanessa Redgrave are both Ann Lord, at either end of her adult life. As she lies dying, she dreams of her past, or rather of one specific incident. In her morphine haze, she is attended by daughters Constance (Natasha Richardson) and Nina (Toni Collette), and her nurse Mrs Brown (Eileen Atkins), but for the most part she is far away in time and space, before the wedding of her best friend, to whom she is to be maid of honour.

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That friend is Lila Wittenborn, played by Mamie Gummer, one of the extended Streep family. The older Lila, naturally, is played by Meryl Streep. Their are the usual wedding nerves, games of north-west American privilege, WASPish sensibilities and all. Glenn Close is as marvelous as ever, but her performance sits unevenly even among a cast as broad and as talented as this.

There are men in the film too, though it makes no effort to cater for their kind. Patrick Wilson has a central role as Harris, doctor son to the Wittenborn's housekeeper, and an object of great attraction and affection to those assembled for Lila's wedding. Among them is Buddy (Hugh Dancy), Lila's younger brother, with Ann part of a great college friendship, and as much as the film is about Ann's choices, it is also about those she leaves behind.

There is tragedy, betrayal, romance, a little bit of nudity, a smattering of premarital sex in those conservative days, and a measure of mystery as Ann's daughters try to figure out what their somewhat senile and opiate befuddled mother is babbling about. They have dramas of their own, of course, with their men (or lack of men), or families (or lack of families), and so on and so forth. It's not for want of trying, but there's little original here. This is film-making by the numbers.

One suspects that the book attracted the cast, but the script would seem to be a pale reflection. They do their best, but this is only special because of them. No matter the quality of assembled talent, some films don't quite gel. Evening, unfortunately, is one of them.

That's not to say that it's a bad film - far from it. It's well shot, almost inevitably well-acted, and while its messages might be far from profound or rare they are still well deployed and displayed. Those who are experienced on the screen give it the benefit of their time, those who are less so have talent enough to keep up. There are no glaring technical failings, and even the score manages to avoid the intrusiveness often found in tear-jerkers and adaptations of chick-lit.

Ultimately, Evening's failing is that it's merely competent. With a cast like that assembled, it had a genuine chance for greatness - it shares with The Hours many of its actresses, its origins in literature, a flexible approach to chronology and even a voice-over - but it falls short, not just of the genre's potential, but of its own.

Reviewed on: 12 Sep 2007
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Evening packshot
A dying woman recounts her past romances to her daughters, who are struggling with their own love lives.
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Director: Lajos Koltai

Writer: Susan Minot and Michael Cunningham, based on the novel by Susan Minot.

Starring: Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Vanessa Redgrave, Patrick Wilson, Hugh Dancy, Natasha Richardson, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Barry Bostwick

Year: 2007

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

The Hours