I recently spent a whole year watching a Meryl Streep film every week, and I thought I’d share with you some of the reviews I wrote for her many classic films!
2007 was a strange year for Meryl. After the stellar summer of 2006, when A Prairie Home Companion opened to glowing reviews and The Devil Wears Prada became an unexpected smash at the box office, Meryl became busier than ever, shooting various projects with stellar casts and acclaimed directors. In one of her most prolific years since 1979, when Manhattan, The Seduction of Joe Tynan, and Kramer vs. Kramer were all released, 2007 gave us a Meryl movie seemingly every few weeks. Her underrated and mostly forgotten Dark Matter played at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival (but wasn’t officially released until early 2008), Evening came out in the summer, Rendition opened in October, and Lions for Lambs was released in November, as Oscar season was heating up.
She seemed to be everywhere that year, but what made 2007 particularly strange was not that she was in a lot of movies, but that she appeared in a lot of bad movies. Rendition falls flat, Lions for Lambs is a complete disaster, and Evening, the first of her three official 2007 films, is a major disappointment.
All of the elements are in place for Evening to be a great movie. Michael Cunningham, whose novel The Hours became the Academy Award-winning 2002 film with Meryl, co-wrote the screenplay to Evening with the author of the bestselling novel, Susan Minot. The Oscar-nominated director Lajos Koltai was coming off an acclaimed foreign film, Fateless. The ensemble cast is one of the most impressive to have ever been assembled — Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Vanessa Redgrave, Patrick Wilson, Hugh Dancy, Eileen Atkins, Glenn Close, and Natasha Richardson, in her final dramatic role. Meryl’s daughter Mamie Gummer appeared in her second major film role (after 2006’s The Hoax), playing the younger version of Meryl’s character Lila. Everything about this movie screamed success.
Two storylines are featured, one set close to present day, the other in the 1950s. The present day storyline is by far the weaker of the two. Redgrave plays Ann, who is spending her last dying days withering away in an upstairs bedroom. Her two adult children (Collette and Richardson, the latter of whom was Redgrave’s real life daughter) are spending time with her at the home, wanting to bond with their mother in the little time they still have. Ann speaks of a special time in her life, when she was in her twenties and attended the wedding of her friend, Lila. Danes plays the younger Ann, and during the course of a few memorable days, Ann pursues the gorgeous Harris (Wilson) while the quirky Buddy (Dancy) falls for her. When a tragedy occurs, nothing ever stays the same for Ann.
Evening is the sad case of a movie where everyone involved surely thought it was going to be a winner, but little about it works. Dancy is the one member of the cast who creates an intriguing character, a guy with inner demons who could have been the focus of a film all his own. Danes is solid as usual, and it’s especially bittersweet to watch Redgrave and Richardson share a tender moment on screen, when Richardson was two years away from her untimely death.
However, most of the film lays inert on the screen. Little tension is ever established, and most awkward of all is the cutting back and forth between storylines. Just when the 1950s narrative starts to get interesting, the director cuts back to the present day narrative, often not for just a minute or two, but for a long, unnecessary stretch of time. More effective would have been to open and end with the present day storyline, and allow the 1950s storyline to encompass the majority of the screen-time. Two or three scenes of Redgrave rotting away in a bed is sad; fifteen scenes of it is monotonous.
As dull and uneventful as the movie turned out to be, there are many parallels to previous Meryl movies worth noting for trivia buffs. As previously mentioned, this was Meryl’s second collaboration with Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cunningham. Of all films she has made, Evening is very much like The Hours; both films deal with multiple narratives, both have a significant storyline set in the 1950s, and both star Meryl, Collette, and Danes. Meryl’s first film Julia, from 1977, won Vanessa Redgrave a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, and here, the two actresses got to have their first, and to date only, scene on film together. This movie marked the first time Meryl and her daughter Mamie appeared in the same project, and it was the second time for Meryl and her good friend Glenn Close (although never in the same scene, unlike in The House of the Spirits).
Meryl doesn’t actually appear in Evening until the third act, about ninety minutes in. In what amounts to little more than a cameo, Meryl, playing the older Lila, arrives at the home, walks upstairs, reminisces with Ann, shares a tender moment with Ann’s daughter Nina (Collette), and leaves; that’s about it. Meryl looks extremely old in Evening, with credible and unflattering make-up, and she does her best with a mostly nothing role that she probably took because she felt she had to.
The film had stellar talent in front of and behind the scenes, and her daughter Mamie was actually cast first — everyone on the crew therefore must have thought it pretty obvious to cast Meryl as the older version of her for the film’s conclusion. She gives the present day narrative a jolt of energy it desperately needs, and while it’s nowhere near her finest moment on screen, there’s a fascination in watching two pros like Meryl and Redgrave play a scene together, even if only for a few minutes.
Overall, Evening is a film that should have been great but rarely delivers. It bombed with most critics, was a clunker at the summer box office, and did not receive any year-end awards nominations that many involved likely expected. The film was a disappointment for Meryl, but most shocking of all, the lame Evening would actually be the best of her three 2007 films.
Brian Rowe is an author, teacher, book devotee, and film fanatic. He received his MFA in Creative Writing and MA in English from the University of Nevada, Reno, and his BA in Film Production from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He writes young adult and middle grade suspense novels, and is represented by Kortney Price of the Corvisiero Agency. You can read more of his work at his website, brianrowebooks.com.