This Star Doesn't Twinkle

As the movie plods along, tragedy and triumph swap time on center stage as mechanically as tag-team wrasslers, using brute force to bully the audience into numb submission. Gradually everyone is persuaded of Aurora's headstrong charms, and then, for the coup de grace, Nicholson makes an obligatory ten-minute appearance -- but truth be told, he's playing Jack more than Garrett Breedlove. The writing does pick up as Nicholson spouts some epigrammatic lines, delivering the movie's big message (merely surviving and living a good long life is a victory in itself) and explaining the movie's title (the evening star shines first, brightest, and longest -- just like Aurora herself!). As the audience surrogate, he tells Aurora he still loves her.

MacLaine may be the only one here uninterested in simply resting on her laurels: She does solid, admirably understated work even when the material tempts her to overplay broadly. Richardson too is entertaining as the fatuously friendly Patsy, though this role seems well beneath her talents. The remainder of the cast is serviceable, but Lewis's mannerisms have long since entered the grating phase.

As it winds down, The Evening Star does a lot of fast-forwarding, as if Harling himself is getting tired of his story and is scurrying to reach the conclusion that Aurora's life was indeed wonderful, if terribly messy. (McMurtry's book did much the same thing -- some of the later chapters were no more than a few sentences.) By then you just want it to be over -- which is hardly the tribute to Aurora, or MacLaine, that anyone intended.

The Evening Star.
Written by Robert Harling, based on the novel by Larry McMurtry; directed by Robert Harling; with Shirley MacLaine, Bill Paxton, Juliette Lewis, Miranda Richardson, Ben Johnson, Scott Wolf, George Newburn, Marion Ross, Mackenzie Astin, Donald Moffat, and Jack Nicholson.

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