Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

05 July 2007

Evening

Lajos Koltai's Evening, which has a ridiculously impressive cast of actresses in it, looked like it was going to be The Hours: Part II. Some of the cast members even stepped directly out of The Hours: Eileen Atkins, Meryl Streep, Claire Danes, Toni Collette. The cast also includes real life mother and daughter Vanessa Redgrave & Natasha Richardson, Glenn Close (!), Hugh Dancy (so cute), Patrick Wilson (so cute), and—impossibly—Meryl Streep's real life daughter Mamie Gummer. (Gummer?!?! Really? She's a capable actress, but that name!) The film also boasts a very nice, if small performance by an actor named Ebon Moss-Bachrach.

Okay, enough talk of the performers. Evening is most definitely not The Hours: Part Two, though this is precisely what the filmmakers seem to have been going for. Instead of the wisdom, philosophy, humanity, beauty and emotion that graced David Hare's screenplay for The Hours, the script for Evening, by Susan Minot, who wrote the novel Evening and Michael Cunningham, who wrote the novel The Hours, clunks along heavy with melodrama and light on philosophy. This problem plagued Cunningham's screenplay of his novel A Home at the End of the World, too. Cunningham's books are incredible, wonderful creations. They are some of my favorite books, and I consider a new Cunningham novel a must-read (his latest novel Specimen Days is lovely), but he seems incapable of translating this to films that he pens himself. David Hare's script for The Hours distilled the novel's plot points and yet preserved Cunningham's insights into his characters. Cunningham as a screenwriter seems fixated only on events. His scripts move from plot point to plot point never taking the time to notice his characters' subtleties. The result is a film (films) that is long on plot and short on any emotional development.

Another very serious problem that Evening has is its score by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek. It's a beautiful, delicate score, not quite as charming as his Oscar-winning score for Finding Neverland but still very pretty. Here again, a comparison with The Hours is appropriate. That film had a score by Philip Glass, and say what you will about him (I happen to completely love him, but he has his detractors) his film scores are insistent, powerful and they drive the action. Films like Notes on a Scandal, The Fog of War, The Illusionist and Kundun all have plots that aren't particularly tension-filled or action-packed, but overlayed with Glass's scores they become thrilling movies, headed toward some kind of impact or blow-up. Think about it. The Hours has very little dramatic tension, but Glass's score keeps the film moving at a rapid pace, connects the stories, and makes the audience always feel like something very important is about to happen. This never happens in Evening. Kaczmarek's score, pretty though it may be, is just decoration.

There are three scenes that really work in Evening, and they are in the last half hour of the film. When Meryl Streep finally appears (it's a cameo, really), she delivers all the insight the film has to share. This is, indeed, a lovely sequence of scenes, but it's all the movie really has to offer and it happens way too near the end, when my patience with Evening had already worn thin.