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June 27-July 3, 2007

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'Evening'

Girl power: Mamie Gummer (right) and Claire Danes bond in 'Evening.'

The Plunge

'Evening': Physician, heal thy script

By Richard von Busack


YOUNG WRITERS: Drop the name of a classic into a work, as insurance against being found out. In Evening, the names are The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, Wuthering Heights and three separate refs to A Midsummer Night's Dream, if you count Mendelssohn's "Wedding March." The wedding scene is really a highlight, though: swaths of lace and tulle, computer-augmented blasts of light coming through the windows of the church, 200 years of WASP elegance pouring out of the screen, fit to knock the audience to their knees right there on the soda-sticky floor. Evening, based on Susan Minot's novel, has a backstory that is a fashion-magazine's version of 1952. After embodying the Flaubertian post-romantic romance in Little Children, Patrick Wilson returns to square (-jawed) one as a soap-op physician. Dr. Harris Arden was once the housekeeper's son at the Newport, R.I., cottage of the upper-crust Wittenborns. He might have been temporarily dazzled by their Daisy Buchananesque daughter, Lila (Mamie Gummer), but something cold, hard and ambitious rose in him, alternately likened to Jay Gatsby's rise and to Heathcliff's sorrows. (There will be repentance later; the doctor eventually goes and "works with the poor." Physician, heal thy script.)

Harris draws the attention of Ann Lord (Claire Danes), underdressed in peasant dirndl and fisherman sandals from "the village." She's visiting from some Ivy league college where they trade erudite quips ("Wittgenstein, shmittgenstein!" is the one quoted). Hanging with the ladies is Lila's mischievous little brother, Buddy (Hugh Dancy), whose rebellious curls are exceeded only by his even more rebellious drinking habit and rebellious sexuality. He, too, has a crush that dare not speak its name on Dr. Heathcliff Gatsby Arden—and he also longs to be a writer, but he can't come up with the first line for his novel ("Call me Ishmael' was taken; such is the "joke" told here). To signify his sorrows, Buddy carries around a half-drunk Moët bottle. (Those were the days when the elite sailed on seas of martinis, as we know from the teary memoirs of their offspring. And this takes place during a wedding in summer? And there's only one inebriated person?! Why will the writers of today keep superimposing their own puritan ethics on the past?)

Perhaps it's better in the present, you suggest; director Lajos Koltai whizzes us there to see. Danes has aged into deathbed-ridden Vanessa Redgrave, whose feverish memories of The Single Most Important Weekend of My Life are pieced together by her daughters: dutiful wife Natasha Richardson and ill at ease and unsuccessful Toni Collette, who is carrying an unhallowed bun in her oven. Tinted like a postcard, and almost devoid of intentional humor, Evening is the Destroy All Monsters of chick flicks. Godzilla (Meryl Streep as the elderly Lila) is called in at the last minute to settle the score: "We are mysterious creatures," she says (and well bred, too!). Engineered to make a rock weep, the film is loaded with false swank soaked up from too many nights with AMC. As for the drama, it is like a hopeful variation of Chekhov's Law. If you show the audience a gun in the first act (in this case, the "gun" is "The Plunge," a dangerous bit of coastal cliff), it'll be a surprise when the obvious sacrificial character gets killed with a dropped bowling ball.


Movie Times Evening (PG-13), directed by Lajos Koltai, written by Susan Minot and Michael Cunningham and starring Claire Danes and Toni Collette, opens June 29.


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