Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"New" from Tennessee Williams: Jodie Markell's TEARDROP DIAMOND debuts

TrustMovies has a confession to make: He has never been a great fan of the work of Tennessee Williams. Perhaps this is due to seeing mostly second-rate productions of the man's plays. Or maybe from sitting through second-rate movies made from many of those plays. (Streetcar is an ex-
ception, and so is the 1976 TV adaptation of Eccentricities of a Nightingale, but Sud-
denly Last Summer, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Fugitive Kind, Sweet Bird of Youth, Summer and Smoke, The Rose Tatoo and Night of the Iguana are not.) Consequently, from his youth in the late 1950s, hearing actors deliver this guy's dialog became, to this playgoer/
moviegoer's ears, the sound of "camp" -- long before that word had entered the gay lexicon. How else do you explain why so much of Williams' dialog has end-
ed up in the mouths of female impersonators? It's so good?
No: It's so juicy -- a fine fit for over-the-top melodrama.

Still, Williams fans and non-fans alike should welcome the "new" screenplay from America's "great" playwright: THE LOSS OF A TEARDROP DIAMOND, a heretofore unproduced screenplay written by Williams in the late 1950s, anthologized some years later, and now brought to the screen via actress and fledgling director Jodie Markell (shown above). So far as I am concerned the film makes a fine, if typical, addition to the Williams canon, bearing many of the writer's good qualities (the ability to capture a character through dialog, while capturing the "South") and bad (the further ability to take that dialog, character and the South itself past real and humane and right off the charts into camp and cliché).

The film is cer-
tainly a visual treat, what with its lush south-
ern landscapes, costumes and colors. Its cast is a good one, too: from Chris Evans (right) as the sexy, hon-
est "hero" to Ann-Margret as southern high society, Ellen Burstyn as the family's aging black sheep, Will Patton as Klein's drunken dad, Mamie Gummer as the heroine's intelligent and decent friend and hostess, Jessica Col-
lins as the "other girl," and in the lead role, Bryce Dallas Howard (below) as the kind of gal you immediately recognize as a younger version of Blanche DuBois. And there, the film's problems begin.

Ms Howard is passable in the role. Her accent wobbles a bit from time to time, but that's the least of it. She makes it clear that her character, Fisher, is troubled, insecure, and bordering on nut-case level, but she lacks the ability to pull us over to her side and make our heart break for her. We observe her, but that's about it. By having to play a Blanche-in-training and by making this young woman so immediately sophisticated and naive, knowing and dumb, sexual and so little-girlish, she quickly wears out her welcome to those around her in the film and to us viewers, too. But the movie goes on for another hour or so. Nonetheless, Williams' themes -- honesty being trumped by tradition, faux sophistication as a cover for insecurity, and especially telling, a mature willingness in this later work to allow his lead characters to settle for what they can get rather than all they might want -- come through fairly strongly.

The rest of the cast has a fine time playing the semi-old South (the 1920s), though the occasional moment may seem a tad too modern. Markell draws good performances from everyone in the cast, and Burstyn (shown left, looking fabulous at the film's Toronto fest premier) seems especially strong in this, one of her better roles in recent years (the other is in The Stone Angel). The young director points her camera (the fine cinematography is by The Deep End's Giles Nuttgens) in the right direction at the right time, and generally does a creditable job for a first-timer. I can't imagine that the film will not prove mandatory for buffs of Williams, if only as a curio to add to his oeuvre.

The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond opens Wednesday, December 30, in New York City at the Quad Cinema and in Los Angeles at Laemmle theatres in Encino, Santa Monica, Pasadena and West Hollywood.

Photos are from the film, except for that of Ms. Markell.
The photo of Ms Burstyn is by C.J. LaFrance,
courtesy of Getty Images North America

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