Elderly Ann Grant Lord (Vanessa Redgrave) lays on her deathbed surrounded by her two daughters Connie (Natasha Richardson) and Nina (Toni Collette). Fading in and out of lucidity, the aged woman begins recounting tales of her past and is especially fixated on a man named Harris. Then she makes the shocking statement that she and Harris killed someone called Buddy.
Connie is convinced her mother is just hallucinating and wants to leave her in peace, but Nina is more curious. Her probing for more information eventually uncovers the whole story. This is seen in an extended flashback centering on a pivotal weekend in the 1950s when young Ann (Claire Danes) journeyed from New York City to Newport to be the maid of honor for her college friend Lila (Marnie Gummer).
The blushing bride is the offspring of a wealthy family whose mother (Glenn Close) is more than casually interested in all the minute details of the extravaganza. Ann is warmly welcomed to the festivities by Lila's younger brother Buddy (Hugh Dancy), who seems almost as interested in his sister's best friend as he is in the bottle he usually carries with him. Also amongst the many wedding guests is the mysterious Harris (Patrick Wilson), an intimate friend of the family.
Inter-cutting conversations from the present and the past, the script pieces together the experiences and relationships that have molded the characters. As well, it tries to draw parallels between the personalities of both generations. The plight of the twenty-something Ann, as she chooses between loyalty to friends or a romantic obsession, mirrors the life choices of the constant Connie and the whimsical Nina.
Thanks to the cast of mega-celebrities gracing every scene (Meryl Streep makes an appearance too), this film has an important air about it. However, plot holes that leave gapping questions and a large collection of pampered people that are hard to sympathize with, contribute to the feeling you are merely watching a well-filmed, grandiose soap opera.
Although Evening is unlikely to appeal to young audiences (except perhaps teen girls attracted to its romantic angle), parents should still be aware of some possible concerns. These include depictions of heavy smoking (typical of the 1950's era) and drinking to excess (especially Buddy's alcoholic tendencies). Drunkenness leads to some reckless and dangerous behavior. Other issues involve a character struggling with homosexual feelings, a pedestrian fatality, a naked man seen from behind, and the single use of a sexual expletive.
The desires to reconcile family differences and learn to better understand one another are commendable messages within this film. Regrettably, the long and meandering road of Ann's life lessons is so strewn with artistic and content obstacles that it's unlikely many will be motivated to change their own path before the Evening is over.