‘The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond’ movie review
A new production of a little-known, decades-old screenplay from a celebrated – indeed, legendary – writer invites cautious response. After all, if a work is dynamic and exceptional, how could it remain undeveloped for many years? The answer is pleasingly complicated when it comes to Tennessee Williams’ The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond. Written directly for the screen in 1957, the work withered until selected by Jodie Markell 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 provocative, independent 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).
Jimmy Dobyne (Chris Evans), the handsome and decent but currently impoverished son of an alcoholic overseer, is enlisted by Fisher as her débutante 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 resides in the lead male. The Southern feast is typically lousy, with institutionalized women and sexually complex men along with a thematic gumbo of social decay and intolerance. Comparison to Williams’ oeuvre is insurmountable, though the collected works inform this new adaptation succinctly.
Jodie Markell approaches the material with formality and beauty. The soft transitions between scenes, for instance, call to mind Terence Davies’ Edith Wharton adaptation, The House of Mirth (2000), and its graceful sorrow. The widescreen lensing of Giles Nuttgens exaggerates the approach with a delicate attention to ambience and mood. 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 Williams film adaptations beyond The Glass Menagerie (1950 & 1987). The lewd margins are understated.
The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond assumes the aura of a 1957 film, excepting a short PG-13 sex scene and 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. The nymphomania of many a brazen Williams woman simmers in this work, but without a piercing whistle. 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 falls prey to a shaky, superficial rendering of accent in moments, as does Evans – who, in fact, is often out-of-depth, even though he possesses the dramatic potential of conviction.
The refinement found in The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond is a hallmark that sets the similarities of its story apart from other renderings of Tennessee Williams onscreen. At times, the style is too reverent. Some of the wicked and grotesque is unfortunately snuffed out – even if not completely: two catty sisters portrayed by Marin Ireland and Zoe Perry provide acerbic authorial commentary to great effect during the Halloween party sequences. A few theatrical flourishes seem unnecessary and the visual elegance does occasionally supersede the rhythm of dialogue. Yet, the screenplay and Jodie Markell’s sound, loving adaptation present the work as a satisfying addition to a strong filmography.
The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (2009). Director: Jodie Markell. Screenplay: Tennessee Williams. Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Evans, Ellen Burstyn, Ann-Margret, Will Patton, Mamie Gummer, Jessica Collins.