Amy Ryan
June 29, 2007 AT 12:00 PM EDT

Why is Evening, a literary drama brimming with Oscar-bait actresses — including Claire Danes (pictured, left, with Mamie Gummer), Vanessa Redgrave, and Meryl Streep — arriving at the multiplex amid the summer dog days? Could it be that the movie is itself a dog? That’s what most critics seem to be calling it, despite its tony pedigree. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen so many reviews for a movie that contain the word “alas.”

Not all the reviews are dismal. The pro-Evening cheerleaders include Jeff Strickler of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who writes, “There are chick flicks, and then there are CHICK FLICKS!!! Evening, an adaptation of author Susan Minot’s romantic weeper, clearly is one of the latter. Boasting an ensemble of Hollywood’s best actresses, this drama is unabashedly sentimental but still effective. It streamlines the book’s narrative, but never overlooks a chance to tug on viewers’ heartstrings. Savvy theater managers will stock Kleenex in their concession stands.” Writes Duane Dudek of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:  Evening effectively restores the reputation of the sprawling multigenerational mother-daughter film…. Evening even gives stunt casting a good name…. If Evening breaks no new ground, it travels a familiar road with dignity.” The Chicago Tribune‘s Jessica Reaves writes, “Evening, which covers all the Big Issues (life and death, love and loss), could be a big sentimental mess. Happily, Minot and [Michael] Cunningham’s creative interpretation of the novel hews close to the original in one way, at least: The film, like the book, is clear-eyed without being clinical, reflective but never maudlin.”

The film’s detractors are quick to acknowledge the vast talent pool behind it. “Alas, the thing they all choose to labor over is a thin, overwrought tale of New England bluebloods wallowing in self-perpetuated angst and recriminations,” says the Hollywood Reporter‘s Kirk Honeycutt. “At the end of the movie, everyone decides to get over it. Wow, that’s a relief…. Nevertheless, we must be grateful to any film with such glorious actresses still at the top of their game.” “So you were maybe expecting a masterpiece?” asks Peter Rainer of the Christian Science Monitor. “Alas, Evening, loosely based on Susan Minot’s novel, is a dreary mood romance that flashes back and forth between present day and 50 years ago. The director, Lajos Koltai, made a remarkable feature debut with Fateless but loses his moorings here. The performances, especially by Hugh Dancy as a sexually confused rich kid, are overwrought, and the script, which Michael Cunningham (The Hours) wrote in collaboration with Minot, is slack.”

addCredit(“Evening: Gene Page”)

If Evening is being marketed as a chick flick, some female critics aren’t buying it. “Parked uneasily between sensitive indie and studio chick-flick, Lajos Koltai’s Evening makes star-studded hash of Susan Minot’s beautifully written, if emotionally constricted, novel about a terminally ill woman trying to wrestle meaning out of the shards of her memories,” writes Ella Taylor in the Village Voice. “Stripped of the rhythmic lilt of Minot’s prose and her delicate probe into the treacheries that time and memory work on our lives, Evening tips over into farce” Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times writes, “For all of its class-act bona fides, Evening lurches between the morose and the sentimental, with occasional incursions into the absurd – though, naturally, with talent like this onboard, it can’t help but have its moments…. Otherwise, there’s very little to recommend about this shapeless, plodding piece, which no doubt will inspire dozens of critical predictions about how we ladies will like it. Poor ladies, how we suffer.”

Some critics thought it borrowed heavily from older, better tales. “Evening is a very pretty, very bad movie. It kept reminding me of my green plastic recycling bin,” writes Chris Hewitt in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “Instead of pop cans and way too many magazines, the recyclables in Evening include The Great Gatsby (each story deals with haves and have-nots playing out psychodramas at an Atlantic coastal mansion, climaxing with a car wreck deus ex machina), The Hours (recidivists from that film’s classy cast include Meryl Streep, Claire Danes, Toni Collette and Eileen Atkins, joined by Vanessa Redgrave and Glenn Close) and Terms of Endearment (mothers, daughters, secrets).” Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post found similar references: “Evening is high-grade cheese, the sort of highly pitched melodrama that in the 1950s would have been the stuff of a lurid, lavishly staged Douglas Sirk picture…. The ghosts of Fitzgerald and Hemingway haunt Evening like admonitory spirits; the fact that they’re explicitly invoked in the movie doesn’t make it any less derivative…. Evening is a terribly refined, painstakingly composed study in aristocratic angst that audiences will be hard-pressed to believe a word of.”

Most economical critique of the movie’s squandered talent comes from Carrie Rickey of the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Evening might be the most shocking waste of natural resources since the despoiling of the Amazon rain forest.”

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