Redgraves recalls events of a half-century before, when she was Claire Danes and the maid of honor at the wedding of her best friend, Mamie Gummer. The latter is flooded with mixed emotions because she remains in love with Patrick Wilson, the Ken doll who has rebuffed her passes.
Danes' presence at the wedding puts her in contact with Gummer's brother, Hugh Dancy, an immature alcoholic who has nursed a crush on the reluctant Danes for years. Glenn Close and Barry Bostwick play the wealthy New England parents of Gummer and Bostwick.
A mystery arises when the 2007 Redgrave reveals to her daughters that she and Wilson "murdered" Dancy. Since Collette and Richardson are unfamiliar with Redgrave's distant past, they wonder whether the medicine-influenced Redgrave is talking nonsense.
How others will see it. A well-regarded cast and an art-house story failed to convince either the critics or the film festivals. The best that Evening could manage was an AARP Best Actress nod for Vanessa Redgrave. The move was a financial bust, with a domestic gross of only 12.5M.
Today at imdb.com, the film has 12.5K user votes, a low total for a fairly recent movie with a cast stocked with household names. Unsurprisingly, a gender gap emerges, particularly among older viewers. Men over 45 give the film a humdrum 6.4 out of 10, while women over 45 grade the film a respectable 7.0.
A few who have seen the movie have also read the book, and criticize the differences between the two. In particular, Harris (Patrick Wilson) is the Perfect Man here, and a womanizing cad in the book. Danes' three husbands have mostly disappeared in the transition to the screen.
The user reviews, though, are mostly positive ("a great chick flick", "how I liked Evening") with the expected undercurrent of hostility ("dreadful dud", "tedious", "long, long, long evening").
How I felt about it. Evening has one important asset, its cast. A-list names include Meryl Streep, Glen Close, Vanessa Redgrave, Toni Collette, Claire Danes, and Natasha Richardson, who died less than two years later from a concussion suffered while skiing. With more Oscar nominations than you can shake a stick at (Streep by herself has 21) you would expect a stellar screenplay to draw such famous actresses.
And the script isn't that bad. The problem is the characters, who are stereotypes out of romance novels. Danes is the nice pretty girl destined to be romanced by the hottest guy in the movie (it's not enough for him to merely be handsome, he is also a self-made doctor and philanthropist).
Collette is the humorless woman who won't commit, no matter how much her sweethearts begs. Hugh Dancy is the rich pathetic young man drinking himself to death from unrequited love. Vanessa Redgrave is the old woman looking back on her life, only to find an unsympathetic Irish nurse. Richardson (Redgrave's real-life daughter) barely has a presence, and the same is true for Close and Streep.
Redgrave does not look like a terminally ill patient in her final days. She has no difficulty breathing. There is no oxygen tank or mask, no IV line, and no monitors. Yet a nurse has been hired, presumably at considerable cost, to do what exactly that the two grown daughters couldn't do.
The subplots involving Collette are unconvincing. She has a boyfriend she won't commit to, a pregnancy she probably can't afford, and a happily married sister whose family makes Collette even more moody. Why should the discovery of her pregnancy, and the resolution of her relationship, coincide with Redgrave's final days?
But the movie's cardinal sin is that it is boring. For men especially.