Reverently made from an unproduced Tennessee Williams screenplay written 50 years ago, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond is a mere anecdote in the great American playwright’s canon, and the long-delayed results don’t make a great case for having dusted it off. In 1923 Mississippi, glib young coquette Fisher Willow (Bryce Dallas Howard), basking in her peers’ envy of her “European education” as well as the mutual disdain they reflect back at her, drives through the sunrise-lit kudzu of her father’s estate to recruit his poor but studly hired man Jimmy Dobyne (Chris Evans) to escort her to the Memphis debutante season’s shindigs. A larger agenda seems afoot—though gabby Fisher proclaims her destiny “to buy everything I want,” she favors the strapping son of the fallen Dobynes with a new tuxedo and preludes to “intimacy,” as the boy-man haltingly tells his alcoholic dad (Will Patton). Recoiling from Fisher’s embrace in the front seat of her Pierce-Arrow, Jimmy fatefully takes her to a Halloween party where she immediately panics over the titular crisis and has a class-driven showdown with an opportunistic poor girl (a purse-lipped Jessica Collins) from her recruited gigolo’s past.
As underwhelming as this long climactic sequence is, it does provide Ellen Burstyn with a Very Special Awards-Bait Role as a dying opium addict who begs Fisher for an overdose that will enable her to “resume my travels,” and the veteran actress seizes it for all its worth, shaking eccentric, fervid life into the film for her two scenes. Director Jodie Markell is even inspired to bond soul sisters Howard and Burstyn with a theatrical shaft of light, one of the few bold flourishes in her debut feature. Howard takes a decent stab at making the heroine a nascent specimen in Williams’s gallery of parent-tortured neurotics (Fisher’s daddy done drowned their neighbors when he blew up a levee), and Evans earns some cred even in his muddled role, but perhaps Elia Kazan didn’t rush to follow up Baby Doll with Loss of a Teardrop Diamond in the late ‘50s because he correctly gauged it as undercooked Tennessee tapioca. “When this movie is made, it will require a great deal of visual magic,” the press notes quote Williams, and aside from some humid delta landscapes, Markell comes up short.