Adapted from Susan Minot’s 1998 novel, about memories of a long-lost love affair conjured by a dying woman while her grown children sit at her bedside, Evening wears a pearly tiara of prestige like a society girl at a debutante ball. And it swans about just as stiffly. The cast is impossibly classy: Vanessa Redgrave plays Ann Lord, drifting in and out of delirium. Redgrave’s own daughter Natasha Richardson is paired with Toni Collette as Ann’s offspring. And Claire Danes turns up as a manifestation of Ann’s young self who, as maid of honor at the wedding of a college friend, meets a man (Patrick Wilson) who briefly rocks her world. For added luster, grave and sturdy Mamie Gummer plays the jittery bride-to-be Lila — if her features seem familiar, that’s because her mother is Meryl Streep, who arrives to play Lila late in life. Heck, even the night nurse is played by grand English veteran Eileen Atkins. And that’s not even mentioning Glenn Close as Lila’s mother.
That’s a lot of femme firepower assembled for the first English-language movie by Lajos Koltai, the Hungarian director behind Fateless. (Minot and novelist Michael Cunningham, who wrote The Hours, collaborated on the screenplay.) Yet for all the creaminess of the sets and costumes, every character talks as if she is still made out of written words, not flesh, and each woman’s struggles feel about as important as a tea dance.