The Roaring Twenties have arrived, though they have not quite reached Memphis and its lazily drooping willows—but you can smell the change in the air. Fisher Willow (Bryce Dallas Howard), daughter of a wealthy Tennessee plantation owner, has recently returned from Europe, where she "completed her education," at the behest of her aunt and benefactor (Ann-Margret). In customary 1920s fashion, Fisher's aunt would like her to attend the round of society parties that signify that Fisher has "come out" in Memphis social circles, and even loans her a precious pair of teardrop diamond earrings—worth ten thousand dollars.
Reluctant, but game for the amusement, Fisher agrees, and asks Jimmy Dobyne (Chris Evans) to accompany her to the parties. Jimmy is the good-looking son of a once-powerful family that has fallen on hard times—though his grandfather was a former governor, his father's a drunk employee of Fisher's father, and his mother's in an institution. He agrees to Fisher's proposition, though his pride is obviously a bit hurt. But Fisher's father, acting in his self-interest not long ago, blew up the end of the levee on his land and flooded his neighbors to the south, ruining their crops. Everyone in Memphis knows—and Fisher is decidedly not popular with the in crowd. The parties do not go well, and the invitations do not come in too fast.
So Fisher is delighted to be invited to a Halloween party at her old friend Julie's house, and drags Jimmy along, where they meet Jimmy's old flame, Vinnie (Jessica Collins). Fisher's pride is hurt, and when she loses one of her teardrop diamonds, she impetuously hurts Jimmy's pride too. But her regret is swift. She may not be in love with Memphis, but Jimmy's another story.
The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond is based on a lost screenplay written by Tennessee Williams, and it certainly feels like it (Williams's more famous work, in case you've forgotten, includes A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and The Glass Menagerie). The hallmarks of an older school of theatrical writing are all here, down to awkwardly self-conscious exposition. Every secondary character is completely two-dimensional—they are merely props for Fisher and Jimmy.
In the hands of a skillful director—or on a stage—Williams's work can feel contemporary, dealing as it does with the human condition, with the pride, joy, lust, anger, hurt, and wounds of its characters. But this film isn't quite there. (Perhaps there's a reason the screenplay was never produced.) The characters and plot are interesting, even intriguing, but the movie feels like it ought to be theater, with obvious set pieces. It plods.
Thankfully, some acting saves this from being simply a dull relic of a former age. Bryce Dallas Howard's previous acting work (The Village, Spider-Man 3) has not impressed me, but in this film, she shows her chops. Her Fisher vacillates convincingly between languid and vivacious, her coquettish smile belied by world-weary eyes.
And Howard's good performance is far outshone by Ellen Burstyn, who in her two scenes as an opium-addled, bedridden old woman raggedly breathes much-needed life into the story. One wonders while watching: Will Fisher turn out like this woman? And if so, would it be worth it?
The story here feels somehow unsettled. In some sense, it's another version of a tale as old as Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, told not just by playwrights but by novelists like Flannery O'Connor, and all throughout the Bible: parents screw up, and their children are left to fix things as best they can. In this story, the parents are barely even there—drunk, insane, sleeping, or simply not in the picture. Perhaps it foreshadows what's in store for these people living between the Wars, unwittingly just waiting for the bottom to drop out during the Depression. The world will not be safe again.
But who knows if that's what Williams was thinking as he penned this screenplay. Whatever he wanted to say with his work—he was always saying something—this adaptation falls regrettably short of its own potential, and the rest of Williams's ouevre.
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- In this story, the children seem to be taking care of their parents' business. What do you suppose contributed to their parents' various failings? What happens to children who are put in this position?
- Fisher reacts strongly when she believes she has lost something precious to her. Have you ever acted rashly, then wished you could take your actions back? What can you do to make amends?
- Was Fisher right to do what she did for Aunt Addie?
- What do you think of Fisher and Jimmy's decision at the end of the film? Was it the right decision for them?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Two characters have sex in the back seat of a car, though we don't see much except their faces. Young people at a party play suggestive kissing games. An assisted suicide (by overdose) occurs, without much deliberation at all on the part of the assistant, though the actual death happens off-camera. There is talk of opium, and some mild innuendo.
Photos © Constellation Entertainment
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