The Evening Star [DVD]
Screenplay : Robert Harling (based on the novel by Larry McMurtry)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1996
Stars : Shirley MacLaine (Aurora Greenway), Bill Paxton (Jerry Bruckner), Juliette Lewis (Melanie Horton), Miranda Richardson (Patsy Carpenter), Marion Ross (Rosie Dunlop), Ben Johnson (Arthur Cotton), Scott Wolf (Bruce), George Newbern (Tommy Horton), MacKenzie Astin (Teddy Horton), Jack Nicholson (Garrett Breedlove)
Terms of Endearment, the 1983 Oscar-winner for Best Picture, was an unabashedly heartbreaking movie that lifted itself above its TV movie plot by paying attention to the idiosyncrasies of personality and taking the time to understand the truths of human frailty. It had an utterly sweet charm, and the performances by Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson, Debra Winger, and Jeff Daniels breathed true life into their memorable, often flawed, characters, making the situations real and vital.
Thirteen years later came The Evening Star, billed as "The continuing story of Terms of Endearment." Like its predecessor, it was based on a novel by Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show), a writer whose originals tend to be better than his sequels. The film picks up about 15 years after Terms ended with the death of Winger's character, Emma, leaving MacLaine's Aurora Greenway responsible for her three children. Emma's husband, Flap, wasn't much of a husband (or a man, for that matter, according to Aurora), and the movie quickly explains away his disappearance.
Unfortunately, despite all of Aurora's best efforts and constant attention, Emma's three children did not exactly turn out as Aurora planned. When her maid, Rosie (Marion Ross), tries to explain to her that she can't live their lives for them, she replies tartly, "Neither can they. Not properly."
Tommy (George Newbern), a bitter and angry young man, bastes himself all day long in his own hate while in jail on his third possession charge. At least Teddy (MacKenzie Astin) isn't in jail, but Aurora isn't particularly impressed with his job as a tow-truck driver or his thoughtless wife and their obnoxious three-year-old son whose greatest accomplishment is screaming the word "butthole" over and over again. The youngest of the three siblings is Melanie (Juliette Lewis), a college student who wants to run off to Los Angeles with her boyfriend (Scott Wolf), a wannabe-model whose shallowness is matched only by the sheer awfulness of his stringy mullet haircut.
The key to the movie is the character of Aurora, but unfortunately, she doesn't come across as well here as she did in Terms. MacLaine, who was born to play this role, gives it her best shot, and some of the scenes are truly delightful. Aurora is one of literature and film's greatest women, an unforgettably complex, wonderfully confusing, and utterly confounding person who knows more than she should and isn't afraid to speak her mind. She's terribly confident of herself, but inside there is always a deep vulnerability that takes her off her pedestal and reminds us that she is just as human as everyone else.
Her character came off so well in the original because it was reflected in her rambunctious daughter who refused to take her advice and let her life be lived for her. Their characters came alive through their bickering and disagreements, which were fueled by a passion for life. Here, first-time writer/director Robert Harling (best known as the playwright who penned Steel Magnolias, the stage production and the film) tries to do the same thing with Lewis' character, but it doesn't stand up under scrutiny. Where Winger's character was determined and sometimes hard-headed, but always sympathetic, Lewis is just bitchy and vapid. Her mistakes are so obvious and so predictable, that all you can do is slap your forehead when she decides to go back with her trashy boyfriend, even after she catches him in bed with another woman. And when it blows up in her face, you have to resist the urge to say, "Told you so."
Another of the film's problems is Aurora's relationship with a significantly younger man named Jerry (Bill Paxton). Jerry is a licensed counselor who starts out helping Aurora to think about herself for a change instead of always thinking about her troubled grandchildren, but he winds up as her lover. It's an incredibly awkward and mostly unbelievable affair, especially when it's complicated by the intervention of Patsy (Miranda Richardson), Emma's childhood friend who is now a rich divorcee competing with Aurora for the grandchildren's love.
As before, Shirley MacLaine is in rare form. Much of her character flows over from the original movie, but she does invest some new emotions and revelations. As her maid, Rosie, Marion Ross (best known as Mrs. Cunningham from Happy Days) is a pure delight, especially in her late-blooming romance with the next-door neighbor (the great Ben Johnson in his last role before his death). Down-to-earth and level-headed, Rosie is the perfect foil for Aurora. The end of the movie gets a sudden jolt from the re-appearance of Jack Nicholson as Garrett, Aurora's former astronaut boyfriend from the original, but his scenes are too short to have a lasting impression.
The Evening Star is one of those movies that you hope will be wonderful, but ends up mostly disappointing simply because your expectations were so high. Unlike its predecessor, it never quite manages to overcome the hurdle of its TV movie plotting, and in order to generate emotion, the movie finds itself killing off characters left and right and tying up loose ends far too easily. There are some genuinely touching moments, and some hilarious ones, too, but on the whole, it just doesn't quite measure up.
Maybe this is why most Best Picture winners don't have sequels.
|The Evening Star DVD|
|Audio|| Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround|
Dolby 2.0 Surround
|Supplements|| Screen-specific audio commentary with writer/director Robert Harling|
Original theatrical trailer
|Presented in a new anamorphic transfer in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, the image quality of The Evening Star looks very good. Despite the somewhat soft cinematography, the picture is sharp and crisp, with good color saturation and excellent detail. There is little hint of film grain as the film maintains a generally smooth appearance that is also free of compression artifacts. Some black levels are not quite as solid as they probably should be, but on the whole this is an excellent image.|
|The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is subtle, but effective. As the movie is primarily dialogue with limited sound effects, the surround channels are not used very often. William Ross' musical score sounds very good throughout, and it is here that the surround channels are used to the fullest.|
| Writer/director Robert Harling contributes a fairly lackluster screen-specific running audio commentary. Perhaps it is just his style, but Harling never sounds like he's very excited about talking about his film. He offers a few interesting tidbits here and there (such as the fact that Jack Nicholson scheduled his shooting around an L.A. Lakers' game in Houston), but for the most part he simply discusses the plot. There are numerous stretches of silence, even in the opening minutes of the film, when most directors are falling over themselves to cram in as much information as possible. Maybe Harling has heard too many commentaries where the director runs out of steam in the last 30 minutes and therefore decided to pace himself (he does have more than two hours to fill, and the interest level of his commentary does increase as it goes along). |
Also included is the original theatrical trailer, which is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
©1997, 2001 James Kendrick