Who’s In It: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Evans, Will Patton, Ann-Margret, Ellen Burstyn, Mamie Gummer, Jessica Collins
The Basics: Fisher Willow (Bryce Dallas Howard) is pretty much your typical Tennessee Williams heroine: a lusty, tempestuous Southern belle who yearns to wrestle more out of life than what she can hold in her hands. At the moment, what she wants to hold in her hands is Jimmy Dobyne (Chris Evans), a strapping but poor young man from good stock who may or may not return her affections. With the Great Depression looming and her trust funds dwindling, Fisher tries to re-enter Memphis high society with a dressed-up Jimmy on her arm in hopes of convincing her rich aunt (Ann-Margret) that she’s no longer a globe-trotting wild child. Unfortunately for Fisher, her reputation and her catty frenemies threaten to make life miserable. Worse, Fisher learns that all the bling in the world (even a pricey set of diamond earrings, shaped like teardrops) can’t help her when Jimmy sets his eyes on a rival floozie debutante (Jessica Collins).
What’s The Deal: Big Love actress Jodie Markell makes her directorial debut with this long-lost Tennessee Williams screenplay, which the writer conceived as a third collaboration with director Elia Kazan (A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). Kazan never filmed The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, leaving it to Markell to bring Williams’s flawed, familiar story to the screen. Unfortunately, it’s easy to imagine why Teardrop stayed dormant for decades; the undercooked characters and melodramatic story don’t feel right in the modern era, especially when the cast struggles with affected 1920s dialogue that may have sounded right coming out of Vivian Leigh’s mouth, but doesn’t when spoken by The Human Torch. And the main dramatic plotline, involving Fisher’s missing jewelry and the ensuing dramarama it causes, is quite silly to say the least. But for all of its earnest failures in execution, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond is an admirable attempt by all involved to revive a lost work of one of America’s most celebrated playwrights - and that counts for something, doesn't it?
Bryce Dallas Howard Vs. The Future Real Housewives Of Memphis: Though she powers in and out of an almost comical Southern drawl, Bryce Dallas Howard stays firmly committed to Fisher Willow, a headstrong party girl too cool for the backwater socialites of Tennessee. And though Fisher’s undoubtedly stuck up, manipulative, immature, and often unlikable, Howard brings a coy complexity to the character that elicits sympathy for the free spirited girl stuck in a provincial, uncultured world. It could be worse: Lindsay Lohan was originally slated to play the role.
Fine Actors Who Come Off A Bit Moth-Bitten: Ann-Margret, who shows up in period finery to fuss over Fisher as her wealthy Aunt Cornelia, and Ellen Burstyn, who looks a little frightening as a dying family friend who asks a very big favor of Fisher, feel underutilized and pop up briefly. Likewise, I wish Mamie Gummer had stuck around longer out of mere curiosity to see if she shares mother Meryl Streep’s impressive acting chops. (Verdict: further study required.)
The Most Interesting Scene To Watch: When Jimmy winds up in the backseat of a car with a boring brunette at a party, Fisher takes to furiously pounding out Liszt’s haunting classical love song “Liebestraum No. 3” on a piano while Markell’s direction gives into her heightened emotional state. Later, she takes a generous helping of medicinal opiates to ease her heartache and stumbles through the party in a phantasmagorical sequence enhanced by Markell’s dreamy direction, one of too few scenes where the film exhibits a stylistic deviation from Williams’s straightforward script. Markell’s choices aren’t always organic (like the theatrical spotlighting of Howard’s bedside chat with Burstyn), but when they do surface, they hint at a textural sophistication and self-awareness. If only Markell had taken more liberties, the film might feel more fresh, loose, and stirring to the senses.