The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond
Tennessee's Last Movie is a Minor Chamberpiece
By Cole Smithey
Actress-cum-director Jodie Marshall brings a studied adaptation of Tennessee Williams unpublished and unproduced screenplay that lays bare the material’s less than cinematic trappings. Even as a minor work however, the story retains Williams’s consummate mastery at conveying a Southern Gothic philosophy that was his stock and trade. Set in the era of Fitzgerald’s early ’20s “Great Gatsby,” the story follows poor-little-rich-girl Fisher Willow (Bryce Dallas Howard). Fisher’s ruthless father has earned the scorn of the Mississippi Delta by flooding a levee on his plantation, causing the death of several farmers. Intent on reinventing herself, Fisher hires Jimmy Dobyne (Chris Evans), the stud son of a drunk that runs her father’s plantation store, to escort her to the debutante ball in the guise of the grandson of a past governor. Upon arrival, Fisher loses a high-priced diamond earring borrowed from her disapproving Aunt Cornelia (Ann-Margret) and Jimmy feels wrongly accused of pilfering the heirloom. The drama deflates as Fisher slips from the party to visit with Miss Addie (Ellen Burstyn), the mansion’s bedridden matriarch who begs Fisher to assist in her suicide. Carrying some complimenting bodily heft, Bryce Dallas Howard convinces in the role of Williams’s “mad heroine,” while Chris Evans fails to fill his character’s potentially light loafers.
In her leopard print coat, sequin dress, and bright yellow Pierce Arrow automobile, Fisher Willow knows consciously and intuitively the strict societal limitations that run from the sparkling lobby of the Peabody Hotel to the dingy alleys of Catfish Row. She’s a big fish in a small pond. As an heiress to vast riches, she harbors a dream of ferrying across the Atlantic to engage in a proper upper class European lifestyle that could embrace a modern woman of her particular appetite for sophistication. But more than anything, Willow hungers for love.
Tennessee Williams subscribed to the popular American literary and cinematic convention that painted the privileged few as incapable of ever attaining the one thing that the impoverished masses shared in spades, true love. It’s a mythology that still resonates today. Fisher’s manipulative dressing of field hand Jimmy in a tailored tuxedo and presenting him as part of a political dynasty seems at first a shallow and desperate maneuver. And yet, the guests at the Halloween ball include Jimmy’s old flame Vinnie (Jessica Collins) who is making a running stab at making an unlikely leap from lower to upper class.
For his part, Jimmy is easily distracted by Vinnie’s attentions but he was never able to live up to his end of his bargain with Fisher to begin with. With their financial contract flagrantly broken, Fisher must either choose the lonely path of her moneyed lot and all that it can buy, or follow through on the flawed romantic trajectory that she has designed.
At one point, Mrs. Addie tells Fisher, “Strong people of character like you don’t care about losing a teardrop diamond.” It’s a lie that Addie tells to flatter a young woman who has outgrown everything and everyone around her. Addie too has an agenda that is equally self destructive as Fisher’s. The Old South is built on just such falsehoods, and it’s this cycle of outer and inner deception that Tennessee Williams explored with cunning wit and a jaundiced eye. The impact of “Teardrop Diamond” might not be as potent as say, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” but it’s every bit as poisonous.
Rated PG-13. 102 mins. (B-) (Three Stars)
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