Dir. Jodie Markell, US, 2008, 102 minutes.
In exhuming Tennessee Williams’s unproduced screenplay from 1980, actress-turned-director Jodie Markell has delivered a respectable 1920’s-set upstairs-downstairs story of a vain heiress (Bryce Dallas Howard) who looks beyond her Memphis surroundings but struggles for the respect of a man below her means.
Just producing The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond automatically sets the film in the Williams oeuvre, and elevates its status beyond the reputation of its cast or director. Demand from festivals should be high, mostly in the US, where the film is assured a berth on television, with strong demand from home video and the educational market. Foreign interest is likely to be limited to English-speaking countries, where the limited audiences for Williams’ stage works will be the film’s primary market.
Teardrop Diamond’s protagonist, bored and impulsive Fisher Willow (Howard), is a rich planter’s daughter. A younger twist on Alexandra Del Lago from Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, she approaches Jimmy Dobyne (Evans), to be her escort to the lavish social gatherings of her milieu, clothing him and driving him around in her Pierce Arrow. ‘I just know that I’ll have to buy most everything I want,’ she tells the handsome young man of humble background.
The young woman’s family is loathed for her father’s recent demolition of a levee which drowned some modest farmers. Revenge ripens when Fisher loses a costly teardrop diamond earring while descending from her car at a party and suspicions fall on Jimmy.
A Memphis native and veteran actress, Markell knows how to choreograph the manners and gestures of that society, in all its courtly insincerity, with plenty of help from production designer Richard Hoover. While she has toned down (and c ut) some of the energy of Williams’ lines, Markell is best at conveying the pageantry, and the dilemma, of a woman trapped between her dreams and her circumstances.
Lindsay Lohan was originally cast to play Fisher Willow, but Bryce Dallas Howard, alabaster-skinned and radiant in close-ups by DP Giles Nuttgens, probes the vulnerability that lies beneath her big words gestures. The upper-crust Delta accent is more of a challenge for Howard, especially in Fisher’s more pompous moments. As Jimmy, Chris Evans is oddly stiff, however.
In notes to his script, Williams wrote in 1980 that ‘the story on film will require a great deal of visual magic, the kind that added so much to such recent films as Coal Miner’s Daughter, the Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now.’
With the exception of a masked party, southern style, lavishly costumed by Chrisi Karvonides, Markell substitutes soft graceful drama for the kind of magic Williams wanted. Yet she’s still on target with Williams’ story most of the time.
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Brad Michael Gilbert
Susan E. Morse
Bryce Dallas Howard