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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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You've read the book? It won't spoil this 'Evening'
By Steve Persall, Times Film Critic
Published June 28, 2007
Evening Grade: C Director: Lajos Koltai Cast: Claire Danes, Vanessa Redgrave, Patrick Wilson, Toni Collette, Hugh Dancy, Mamie Gummer, Natasha Richardson, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Eileen Atkins Screenplay: Michael Cunningham, based on the novel by Susan Minot Rating: PG-13; mature themes, sexual situations, profanity, brief disturbing images Running time: 117 min.
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Strong performances and an author's weak backbone make Evening a curious mistake.
Readers won't recognize much of Susan Minot's novel on the screen. Michael Cunningham took care of that, remaking the story into the image of his book and later movie, The Hours, which means making it dull. Minot apparently signed off on the disfigurement in exchange for co-writer and producer credits.
Look what they've done to her book, Ma.
The outline remains: An elderly woman named Ann (Vanessa Redgrave) is on her deathbed, hallucinating about her life's enduring regret. Flashbacks portray an idyllic weekend a half-century earlier that turned tragic, ending what could have been a lifelong love match with a hunk.
Redgrave's grand portrayal of dewy dementia almost makes the screenplay's changes worthwhile. But Ann's life, and the movie, could end sooner and not much would be missed.
The screenplay actually remains fairly loyal to Minot's vision of old Ann's reveries and waning life. Her daughters are another story, with a new, bitter conflict between Nina (Toni Collette) and Constance (Natasha Richardson, Redgrave's real-life daughter) In the book, Ann also had a son watching her waste away. Cunningham's version has little regard for male perspectives: The target audience is female.
We're continually yanked back to the 1950s, when Ann (now portrayed by Claire Danes) arrives at the perfectly manicured Newport, R.I., estate. Ann's Greenwich Village wardrobe and attitude are out of place, but she's the maid of honor choice for Lila (Mamie Gummer, daughter of Meryl Streep). Ann pals around with Lila's brother Buddy (Hugh Dancy) and flirts with Harris (St. Petersburg native Patrick Wilson) - the one who got away.
Minot made Lila a blushing bride-to-be with no qualms about her life choice. Now she's a quivering ball of doubt, the better for she and Ann to share intimate conversations that might play better with females.
The flashbacks are almost entirely restructured, oddly reducing elements of guilt that were ripe material and twisting circumstances to create more digestible angst. The death of a key character becomes an anonymous accident instead of being caused by careless friends. Harris' own engagement to be married is dropped.
Cunningham's touch is evident in the reworked role of Buddy, whose flamboyance in the book becomes closeted homosexuality onscreen and includes a same-sex kiss.
If any of these changes paid off in richer material, they could be excused. But that is not the case. Evening is memorable only for lovely period designs and for casting mothers and daughters to ensure better continuity.