Given the general state of things these days, we should feel grateful for a woman-centered Hollywood movie that stars an abundant number of award-winning actresses, was co-scripted by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author (Michael Cunningham of The Hours), features an outstanding number of women among its technical crew and is helmed by the highly accomplished cinematographer-turned-director Lajos Koltai. In fact, Evening has so much going for it that it's painful to report that all this window-dressing is to no avail. The performances are terrific, even occasionally breathtaking, but they're hampered by an overly convoluted script that takes a very simple concept and complicates it with a back-and-forth temporal flow and an overabundance of characters and relationships.
Based on the novel by Susan Minot (who co-wrote the script), Evening is the story of Ann Lord (Vanessa Redgrave), who during her dying hours reflects on an evening some 50 years before when she may have made an unrecoverable mistake in love. In her fevered state, she utters cryptic comments about the night to her two dutiful daughters (played by Toni Collette and the actress' real-life daughter, Vanessa Richardson). Then we're taken back in time, where Claire Danes plays the young Ann and Mamie Gummer (Meryl Streep's daughter, a chip off the old block) plays Ann's friend, Lila. Eileen Atkins is the bedside nurse who's prone to magical moments sheathed in gossamer.
There are a couple of men (Patrick Wilson and Hugh Dancy), one of whom is the mistake that may have been made. But we have to take that on faith since the movie shows us virtually nothing of Ann's subsequent 50 years. Was a mistake indeed made? Does it matter? Even from the depths of her bed linen, Redgrave manages to inspire awe, although a poetically prosaic moment like the one in which she goes chasing after a butterfly is enough to throw a net over the whole thing. Still, when Streep herself, as the older Lila, comes for a last-act visit and climbs into bed with Ann, the two share a peerless bravura moment in which all gripes about the movie are temporarily forgiven.