Directed by: Lajos Koltai
Written by:Susan Minot, Michael Cunningham
Starring: Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Vanessa Redgrave, Hugh Dancy, Patrick Wilson, Natasha Richardson, Mamie Gummer, Eileen Atkins, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close
Released: July 19, 2007
Grade: A-

Ann (Redgrave) is in the final days of her life.  She is confined to her bed and is taken care of by her two daughters, Nina (Collette) and Constance (Richardson).  Slipping in and out of consciousness, Ann mumbles the names Harris and Buddy.  She describes Harris as her only true love and then goes on to say that she killed Buddy.  This comes a shock to Nina and Constance who don’t know what their mother is talking about.  She had never mentioned these people before.

We then slip into the past to fill in the blanks.  Ann (played now by Claire Danes) has just arrived at a beautiful sea-side mansion which is home to two of her best friends, Lila (Gummer) and Buddy Wittenborn (Dancy).  Lila is getting married tomorrow and Ann will be her bridesmaid.  As Lila and her mother (Close) finalise the nitty-gritty details of the ceremony, Ann and Buddy spend time together.  Buddy has always had a crush on Ann and he hopes to take their friendship a step further.

What should be a fun, happy weekend for Ann is about to become far more complicated.  A dashing gentleman by the name of Harris Arden (Wilson) enters the picture.  He is a wedding guest and long-time friend of the family.  There’s an instant attraction between Ann and Harris which only grows in the lead up to the wedding.  This does not go unnoticed by Buddy who realises he now has competition.

My feeble attempts to describe the plot do not do this film justice.  There are many layers to the characters and you will learn more about them as the movie progresses.  This rich story comes from the novel by Susan Minot (first published in 1998) and has been adapted for the screen by Minot and friend Michael Cunningham (author of The Hours).  I’ve seen many two hour movies which were an hour too long.  In this instance, the film feels an hour too short.  With so many characters in the film, there isn’t enough time to develop them all fully.  I wanted to know more about them.

Evening is being advertised as having one of the finest female casts of the year and I cannot argue.  In what is one of her best ever roles, Claire Danes (Romeo & Juliet) is breathtaking.  She lights up the screen in every scene in which she appears.  I’d like to think she’s a chance at an Oscar nomination.

Of the remaining cast, it’s worth pointing out a few interesting relationships.  Vanessa Redgrave and Natasha Richardson play mother and daughter in the film, just like they are in real life.  Mamie Gummer as the young Lila and Meryl Streep as the old Lila look strikingly similar because they are also mother and daughter in real life.

Hungarian-born director Lajos Koltai has been working as a cinematographer since the early 1970s.  Recent credits include Being Julia, The Emperor’s Club and Malena (which earned him an Academy Award nomination).  Now sitting in the director’s chair, he has called on the services of fellow cinematographer Gyula Pados and has created a film with striking visuals.  From the sunlight streaming into the church to the moonlight glistening off the ocean, everything looks beautiful.

Each year, there are usually a couple of movies I like that I didn’t expect to.  Evening was savaged by American critics as being slow, sappy and jumbled.  I guess this film hit the right notes for me with its insights on seizing the day and living life to its fullest.  My thumbs are up.