The hothouse dramas of Tennessee Williams were considered pretty scandlous back in the '50s because, hello! it was the '50s. These days, warmed-over Williams just doesn’t have the same impact, even if provided by Williams himself, via a long-unproduced screenplay. Rookie director Jodie Markell's handsome production of The Loss Of A Teardrop Diamond conjures up the usual intemperate Williams brew: unspoken homosexual longing sublimated into the tale of a fragile, yet willful Southern belle too arty and sophisticated for her stifling social milieu, teetering on the brink of madness. Pale, porcelain Bryce Dallas Howard goes brunette to play Fisher Willow, a Memphis debutante ca. 1923 who's spent some time abroad, bobs her hair, and has a yen for jazz. She's also smitten with dirt-poor Jimmy Dobyne (Chris Evans)—his father's an affable drunk and his mama is locked up in a madhouse—who runs the commissary on her rich Daddy's plantation. (Somehow, he's also the grandson of the ex-governor of the state, which no one ever bothers to explain.) Of course, Fisher just can't tell Jimmy how she feels, or there'd be no story; instead, she hires him to escort her to debutante balls, at one of which percolating issues of class, character, and reckless, forbidden desires bubble to the surface when Fisher loses her auntie's pricey diamond earring. Provincial young gossips, drugs, and insanity lurk like dust bunnies in the shadowy corners of the plot, which features not one, but two ferocious Williams dragon ladies (Ann Margret, stuck in a prim, empty part, and Ellen Burstyn, cheerfully chomping the scenery as stroke victim delivering an ode to "the Poppy.") It ought to be more fun than it is, in a kind of zany Almodóvar way, but the dialogue is so trite, the tone so mannered, and pages of exposition so obvious, all potential vitality drains away. Markell's helming is excruciatingly stage-like; she actually puts a spotlight on two characters in the middle of a scene to emphasize a soliloquy. Howard's dreamy sensuality doesn't do quite enough to blunt Fisher's obnoxious edges. Evans works manfully to imbue some feeling and credibility into his role as the vital, red-blooded male who has all the girls in fits. But none of them can turn this silly, Southern-fried Gothic into a movie that matters. (★1/2) (PG-13) 102 minutes.
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