Evening (2007)

Mike Scalise

More troubling than Evening's technical failures, the film suffers from a host of cynical political and social themes that undercut the drama throughout.


Director: Lajos Koltai
Cast: Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Vanessa Redgrave, Patrick Wilson, Mamie Gummer, Hugh Dancy
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Focus Features
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-06-29 (General release)

Can resignation be a virtue? That question lies at the center of Lajos Koltai's Evening, a plodding, multigenerational drama that looks back at the life of Ann Grant Lord (Vanessa Redgrave). As she remembers, we see two convoluted narratives filtered through an ancient notion of "women"'s hopes, disappointments, and obligations. But more troubling than Evening's technical failures, the film suffers from a host of cynical political and social themes that undercut the drama throughout.

Both stories are full of drama. Young Ann (Claire Danes) is a struggling, New York City lounge singer transplanted for a weekend to Newport for the wedding of her best friend from college, Lila (Mamie Gummer). Unsure that she wants to marry her fiancé Carl (Timothy Kiefer), Lila is plainly in love with Harris (Patrick Wilson), son of the maid, currently a doctor. He, however, doesn't love her. Lila's brother Buddy (Hugh Dancy), sexually confused and alcoholic, apparently loves both Harris and Ann, neither of whom love him. As Ann tries to convince Lila to leave the wedding behind, she falls in love with Harris herself, as they share a romantic night that adversely affects Lila and her family, a ripple effect that follows Ann to her deathbed.

As Ann now lies dying, she struggles to sort out what happened with Harris, whom she calls her "first mistake." Her daughters, Nina (Toni Collette) and Connie (Natasha Richardson), have no idea what she's talking about. While they worry she's turning delirious, they berate each other's life choices and debate what it means to be a "fulfilled woman." Connie is contentedly married with children, Nina's the acerbic hip-chick who puts off her boyfriend Luc (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) with quips like "Can't we discuss this sometime when my mother isn't dying?"

As this cursory opposition between the sisters suggests, the film is structured by shortcuts. Newport is littered with stereotypical '50s socialites, one of the most egregious being Lila's mother (Glenn Close), prissy, judgmental, and lily-white in every way. Framed as the sympathetic "outsider," Ann nonetheless fails to challenge the expectations of her moneyed "friends." Even when she so tritely tells Buddy, "You don't love me, you just love the idea of me," she can't anticipate that she'll be idealizing Harris the same way 50 years down the road. That is, she doesn't see how the dreary classism of her hosts shaped her own life at the same time she believed she was resisting it.

In the present, Constance and Nina repeat their mother's patterns of remorse and remonstration. Even Nina, who fights so hard to be a "free spirit," is chastened by pregnancy -- which she reveals to her mother (before Luc or Connie) with melodramatic grandeur. Flashbacks reveal Ann's difficulties raising two children when she wanted to pursue her career, opening the way for the daughters to ponder their own limited choices.

While Ann's memories reveal both her pain and joy over a span of years and places, her daughters' stories are constrained by the film's format, as they never leave Ann's house once they get there. Evening thus endorses a strange politics, bordering on nihilism. Nina spends much of the movie hemming and hawing about the implications of her pregnancy, but it's not until the current day Lila (Meryl Streep) arrives that she discovers her course. This thanks to Lila's truly weird observation, "Such mysterious creatures we are. But in the end, none of it matters."

On one hand, Lila's words invalidate Nina's reservations about her future, not to mention the lifelong disappointment Ann feels about her missed opportunity with Harris. But they also let Ann off the hook for missing that opportunity, and justify Lila's own choice to carry on with her marriage, which she admits made her "happy sometimes."

So as the film moves towards its inevitable conclusion, its not so much the characters' choices, but rather the spirit in which they make those choices that cause Evening to be such a failure. It's almost a love letter to resignation. For a film so focused on remorse and desire, its distressing to see protagonists feel neither as they happily abandon their aspirations, settle for what's expected of them, and buy into Lila's deflating theory that the secret to fulfillment is to give up on yourself.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.