Michael Cunningham, who wrote The Hours, helped Ms. Minot adapt the screenplay and infuses it with the same romanticized sense of self-importance. Let's be honest here: What we're looking at is a highbrow chick flick, though one that's beautifully shot. (Hungarian director Lajos Koltai is an Oscar-nominated, veteran cinematographer.)
Ms. Redgrave stars as Ann, a woman lying on her deathbed, recalling the one who got away one weekend 50 years earlier. Her grown children, Nina and Constance (Ms. Collette and Ms. Richardson, Ms. Redgrave's real-life daughter), sit beside her, listening to her half-coherent rants and looking perplexed. Sometimes they go downstairs to the kitchen to bicker; Constance is married with two children, Nina is defiantly single, and each feels superior to the other.
Meanwhile, in flashbacks, Claire Danes plays young Ann, an aspiring singer visiting Newport, R.I., for the society wedding of her college best friend, Lila (Ms. Streep's daughter, Mamie Gummer, and the resemblance is startling). Their pals have names like Peach and Pip, the lawn is lushly green and the ocean is deeply blue, and everyone looks as if they've just stepped out of a J. Crew catalog. (Ms. Close is a perfect fit for this patrician New England setting as Lila's tightly coifed mother, who frets dramatically over seating arrangements at the reception.)
Lila is nervous, too - she's still secretly in love with Harris (Patrick Wilson), son of the family's longtime housekeeper, who's now a doctor. Ann meets Harris and also quickly falls for him. And why not? Wilson, the generically handsome Little Children star, has made a career out of playing the prom king.
Competing for Ann's attention is Lila's younger brother, Buddy, played by Hugh Dancy, who gets some volatile drunken moments but mostly annoys. We know from older Ann's early ramblings that something horrible happened to Buddy, and so we're just waiting for the soap opera elements of Evening to play out until it does.
Mr. Koltai jumps jarringly back and forth in time, sometimes too quickly, sometimes letting scenes play too long. Individual moments strike a chord, namely the one toward the end when Ms. Streep arrives as deus ex machina, playing an older version of Lila in a clever bit of casting. Seeing her and Ms. Redgrave, lying side by side as reunited friends and theatrical heavyweights, provides a bit of a rush.
Mostly, though, Evening feels draggy and repetitive as it wallows self-consciously in its own sense of emotional and cultural significance. At a recent screening in Los Angeles, a man in the audience let out a long, loud yawn during a particularly quiet, emotionally crucial moment. The whole place burst out laughing as if to say, "Our thoughts exactly."
STUDIO: Focus Features
MPAA RATING: PG-13 for elements, sexual material, a brief accident scene and language
RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes
THE VERDICT: ** out of ****