A weepie examination of female and sexual identity whose worth is roughly equal to that of a used Kleenex, Evening is a schmaltzy nostalgic fusion of clichéd melodrama and carpe-diem lessons about regret, love and courage. Based on Susan Minot's novel from a screenplay by the author and The Hours scribe Michael Cunningham, director Lajos Koltai's (Fateless) feature is a golden-hued eye-roller, full of gorgeous seaside locales, beautiful people, and oh-so-profound issues of life and death, not a one believable thanks to Koltai's insistent sappiness and a story that's familiar, goofy and unbearably corny. A bifurcated affair, Evening begins at the bedside vigil of dying Ann (Vanessa Redgrave), where her two daughters Constance (Natasha Richardson) and Nina (Toni Collette) argue over their differing life paths -- Constance is a suburban wife and mom of two, Nina is an aimless mess unable to commit to the boyfriend with whom she's expecting a child -- while listening to mom enigmatically prattle on about a man named Harris.
Commence flashbacks and the piano-and-flute score, because this soggy mystery is the film's meat-and-potatoes, as Minot's tale goes on to detail the momentous romance between young Ann (Claire Danes) and Dr. Harris (Patrick Wilson) at the 1950s Newport wedding of Ann's best friend Lila Wittenborn (Mamie Gummer, who plays -- and in real life is -- the daughter of Meryl Streep). A Greenwich Village bohemian who pays her way singing in skuzzy nightclubs while dreaming of stardom, Ann arrives at Lila's cliffside mansion with Lila's brother Buddy (Hugh Dancy), a cheery fellow who drowns feelings of self-loathing and inadequacy about his writing talents (he dreams of being the next Hemingway) with alcohol. Koltai shoots this swanky setting like he's working on the latest J. Crew catalog spread, his overly sentimental images of the outstretched twilight ocean nicely meshing with dying Ann's faux-wondrous hallucinations about fireflies, butterflies, and a night nurse dressed in a sparkly evening gown. Every moment and aspect of Evening is suffocatingly twee and self-satisfied -- except, that is, for those brief occasions when it's just pitifully conventional.