Weakened Fling 

The power of memory and regret is questioned in "Evening.

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The good news for the filmmakers of "Evening" is that it garnered a lot of laughter at a recent pre-release screening. The downside is that it's supposed to be a serious drama. One could not say what was being laughed at by which person at what moment. One could only say, take your pick.

The central premise of the film is regret. Vanessa Redgrave is Ann, a dying woman tortured with regretful memories of her youth. It could be a literal representation of Emerson's "corpse of memory" if the movie were not more like the corpse of "The Notebook." Ann's memories have something to do with a brief romance in the '50s when (played by Claire Danes) she went with a buddy named Buddy (Hugh Dancy) — so named lest we get the wrong impression — to the wedding of his sister (Mamie Gummer), who's still in love with Harris (Patrick Wilson).

Ann falls for Harris, and Harris for her, and Buddy falls out drunk in the middle of the road. Many decades later, Ann remembers it all while imagining glowing moths dancing around her bed and getting a surprise cameo visit by Meryl Streep. At this point you may have to give your companion a nudge with your elbow else he or she start dreaming, too.

"Evening" was directed by cinematographer-turned-director Lajos Koltai, who is great at filming sunsets. The movie is so visually pleasing, and Ann's weekend so pleasant, you wonder how such beautiful memories could be so upsetting. I don't think the makers of this movie have a clue either, at least not past the returns they hope to receive for filming a popular novel. So what if the story doesn't make much sense? So what if a nonreader walks away clueless? Thousands will show up to see that beloved book they read last summer on the screen with an all-star cast.

Otherwise "Evening" is shockingly ineffectual, like some corporate-sponsored meditation on retirement. Take the scene where Ann, later married in middle age, overcomes a boiling stove and boiling husband to sing to her little girls. Wouldn't a better person regret these all-too-brief moments of real life more than some silly weekend fling? The moment is soon brushed over, however, like a mistaken smudge in a portrait of life. We are the ones left stuck in the baffling present. (PG-13) 117 min. S


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