- The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (2008) movie review: Starring Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Evans under the direction of actress Jodie Markell, this big-screen rendition of a decades-old Tennessee Williams screenplay is a flawed but mostly satisfying release.
The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond movie review: Imperfect but generally satisfying addition to Tennessee Williams’ cinematic canon
A production of a little-known, decades-old undeveloped screenplay from a celebrated – indeed, legendary – writer invites cautious response. After all, if a work is dynamic and exceptional, how could it remain unproduced for so many years?
The answer is pleasingly complicated when it comes to playwright and sometime screenwriter Tennessee Williams’ The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond. Written directly for the screen in 1957, the work withered until selected by actress Jodie Markell (Safe, Hollywood Ending) for her directorial debut feature.
The unmistakable Williams heroine is Fisher Willow (Bryce Dallas Howard), a pariah among society not only for the misdeeds of her father, but also for her independent, provocative temperament. She returns from abroad to the genteel outskirts of 1920s Memphis in an attempt to play by the rules of the game and curry favor with her wealthy Aunt Cornelia (Ann-Margret, Blanche DuBois in the 1984 TV version of A Streetcar Named Desire).
Jimmy Dobyne (Chris Evans), the handsome and decent but currently impoverished son of an alcoholic overseer, is enlisted by the débutante Fisher as her escort. After several public engagements – uncomfortable for both Fisher and Jimmy – the strained couple attend the Halloween party of her friend Julie (Mamie Gummer). Upon arrival, Fisher loses one of the titular accessories, on loan from her aunt. The evening is downhill from there, y’all.
Against the accomplished history of Tennessee Williams’ works and a canon of film adaptations, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond resembles something self-appropriated.
In Fisher, traces are abundant of female characters ranging from Maggie the Cat to Baby Doll to Alexandra Del Lago, charged characters that brought Academy Award nominations to Elizabeth Taylor, Carroll Baker, and Geraldine Page, the actresses who originated them on screen.
In Jimmy, there is Brick Pollitt and Chance Wayne, each originated on film by none other than Paul Newman. As with many of his men, aspects of Williams himself also reside in the male lead.
The Southern feast is typically lousy, with institutionalized women and sexually complex men along with a thematic gumbo of social decay and intolerance. Comparisons to Williams’ oeuvre are insurmountable, though the collected works inform this new adaptation succinctly.
Jodie Markell provides the material with formal beauty. The soft transitions between scenes, for instance, call to mind Terence Davies’ Edith Wharton adaptation The House of Mirth and its graceful sorrow. With a delicate attention to mood and ambience, the widescreen lensing of Giles Nuttgens enhances the overall concept.
The whole upper-class Delta world is as exquisite as a teardrop diamond – and as endangered. There is a fragility and romanticism to this production rarely associated with big-screen Tennessee Williams adaptations apart from The Glass Menagerie (1950 and 1987). The lewd margins are understated.
Thus, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond assumes the aura of a 1957 film, excepting a short PG-13 sex scene and a brief, but pivotal, opiate usage. Conforming to this approach, Fisher’s carnal dilemma is secondary to her selfish quest for self-actualization and her more selfless desire to atone for the sins of her father.
That means the nymphomania of many a brazen Tennessee Williams woman simmers in this work, but without a piercing whistle. Bryce Dallas Howard carefully underplays to this point and is most effective in quiet scenes, particularly in crucial moments with Ellen Burstyn as Addie, a dying dowager who represents the macabre possibilities of Fisher’s future.
On the downside, Howard at times falls prey to a shaky, superficial rendering of the local accent – as does Chris Evans.
In fact, Evans, best known for a couple of Fantastic Four movies, is often out of his depth, even though he undeniably possesses the potential for dramatic conviction.
The refinement found in The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond is a hallmark that sets its narrative apart from those of other Tennessee Williams film efforts.
Admittedly, a few theatrical flourishes seem unnecessary, the visual elegance does occasionally supersede the rhythm of the dialogue, and there are moments when the style is much too reverent. As a consequence, some of the wicked and grotesque is unfortunately snuffed out. (Even if not completely: Two catty sisters, played by Marin Ireland and Zoe Perry, provide acerbic commentary to great effect during the Halloween party sequences.)
But despite its flaws, Jodie Markell’s generally sound, loving adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ screenplay make The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond a satisfying addition to a strong filmography.
The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (2008) cast & crew
Director: Jodie Markell.
Screenplay: Tennessee Williams.
Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Evans, Ellen Burstyn, Ann-Margret, Will Patton, Mamie Gummer, Jessica Ann Collins.
Cinematography: Giles Nuttgens.
Film Editing: Susan E. Morse & Jeremy Workman.
Music: Mark Orton.
Production Design: Richard Hoover & David Stein.
Producer: Brad Michael Gilbert.
Production Company: Constellation Entertainment.
Running Time: 102 min.
Country: United States.
“The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (2008) Movie Review” endnotes
The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond was screened at several film festivals in late 2008. It had a limited release in the United States in December 2009.
The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond movie credits via the American Film Institute (AFI) website.
The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond q&a with director Jodie Markell.
Chris Evans and Bryce Dallas Howard The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond movie images: Paladin.
“The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (2008) Movie Review: Flawed But Mostly Satisfying Tennessee Williams Transfer” last updated in December 2022.