The Oscar possibilities are flying fast and furiously now. I was excited when I heard it was a “lost Tennesse Wililams screenplay” that I was seeing on this night. As a former theatre critic, Tennesse Williams’ plays were always my go-to choices when all other offerings were dreck and dreary. The man had a way with words. And mental illness, and alcoholics. A good time at the theatre usually.
Not so with this adaptation of “The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond,” sadly. In fact, this adaptation is one of the worst productions of anything Tennessee Williams I have ever seen, stage play or film. It is, quite frankly, a mess.
Nearly first-time director (her first film was something she wrote and made 10 years ago) Jodie Markell, who is better known as an actress, and frankly should stay in that profession, was all over the place in her direction. Sometimes she thought it was a play (making the lights dim in the scene completely except around the two actresses speaking. Note to Ms. Markell: Um, we don’t DO that in movies, that’s a stage thing.), sometimes she was quite cinematic.
She had a scene with flapping sheets that cut to a similar scene that was quite beautiful. This movie is actually a very good example of why actresses should stay actresses. They see their own center of the universe (and this film is very actor and actress centric), but they can’t see the whole panorama.
As such, you get little bits of emoting here and there, but the piece holds together like a half-baked cake. The vital bits of backstory are given short shrift, while the madness over losing an earring is played on and on and on and on WAY too long (and sure, maybe some of this is the script, but still). There is no shaping from the director that is so badly needed.
The one most affected by the bad direction is our deeply out of place lead actress, Bryce Dallas Howard, who is pretty and able to handle most of the Williams dialogue, but she is sadly in need of both a good director and an acting coach. After all, doing Tennessee Williams, even a lesser work of his, is rather like stepping into Shakespeare. As an actor, you don’t even try unless you’ve got the chops. Howard has no such chops.
Watching her is rather like watching one of the Gossip Girls attempt Blanche Dubois. It’s painful at best. Her motivation is muddy or non-existent. She wears clothes well, and takes a good close-up, but carrying a movie is MUCH MUCH more than that. Especially a movie like this. Especially a Tennessee Williams piece, where so much is left unsaid in the subtext.
There is an extended party scene, where Howard is pretty much left floating around. She’s the lead, the anchor of the piece, and she wanders aimlessly through the party as though drunk. Motivation, if she has any, is not apparent. (Note to Howard: most of Williams’ characters are drunk, but they remain sharply focused.)
Chris Evans, her male costar, looks like he should be in a modeling ad, or on the CW. He brings his distinctly 2000s acting to this obviously ’50s piece. He fails completely, other than looking really good.
Thankfully, and blissfullly, if you are for some reason suffering through this movie, there are three performances worth watching: Will Patton, as Evans’ drunkard father; Ann-Margaret as Howard’s dowager aunt; and especially Ellen Burstyn as an opium addict who’s had a stroke.
They are the only reasons to watch. Even the Williams screenplay is pretty much a piffle compared to what you’ve come to expect from him.