Bryce Dallas Howard Glitters In 'The Loss Of A Teardrop Diamond'


Tennessee Williams always had a way with indelibly memorable female protagonists -- and Fisher Willow, the diamond-hard, proto-feminist, flapper heart of The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, a lost Williams screenplay now found, is no exception.

While evoking no less than the fragile embodiment of Southern womanhood, Laura Wingfield of Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, Fisher also conjures up other aspects of Williams’ earthy and ethereal goddesses: the languid longing and steely sensuality of Elizabeth Taylor’s Maggie the Cat, the tough, passionate power of Anna Magnani’s Serafina delle Rose, and the love of fantasy and touch-and-go grasp of reality found in Vivian Leigh’s Blanche DuBois.

No one knows exactly why this screenplay, written in the late ‘50s at the height of Williams’ success, never quite made it the screen. Word has it Williams meant it for Elia Kazan, as a followup to his stunning A Streetcar Named Desire and intended Julie Harris, then fresh from East of Eden, as its star. Only one reference to the screenplay appears in the legendary playwright’s journals: “Thurs Midnight Havana. This a.m. (woke at 6 and read till room service started at 7) I was able, for the first time in months to do some satisfactory work. (The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond)-- only a few pages but it picked up my spirits a bit.  Loneliness has begun to shadow me though…” And otherwise Teardrop Diamond languished, finding a place in an anthology of the writer’s screenplays until first-time director and actress Jodie Markell discovered it.

Loose, unconventionally structured, and unrestrained by tight plotting, Teardrop Diamond focuses on one bright centerpiece: Fisher Willow (Bryce Dallas Howard), a wild-child of an heiress who’s having an exceedingly hard time staying down on the ranch. Back from the Sorbonne and reputedly almost engaged to an Italian noble, she’s forced to jump through the hoops of small-townish, small-minded Memphis society, on the orders of her prim Aunt Cornelia (Ann-Margret), who holds a few of Fisher’s purse strings. Here in Memphis, disgrace dogs her heels -- no thanks to a father who dynamited a levy that led to the tragic deaths of local denizens.

Fisher’s one champion -- for hire -- is Jimmy (Chris Evans), who’s from a sterling family whose reputation also has been tarnished of late: his mother has been committed to an asylum, and his father (Will Patton) is given to drink. Fisher decides to make him her paid escort to the local parties -- a way to build a defense and run interference against the catty debutantes. However, not all goes according to plan when Fisher finds herself falling for Jimmy and one of Aunt Cornelia’s teardrop diamond earrings goes missing. 

Naturally an actress would gravitate toward this piece -- interestingly, Lindsay Lohan was once rumored to be attached to the role -- and Howard makes it her own. It’s her best work to date. The dreamy, spaced, and spectral quality that inspired M. Night Shyamalan to cast her in both Lady in the Water and The Village is only one layer of Fisher Willow, who grows increasingly complicated as Teardrop Diamond unfolds. This Williams heroine yearns for freedom as much as any of the playwright’s characters, and Howard adds other layers to this unshapely yet complex part. There’s a thoughtful gravitas and bone-deep empathy to her scenes with, in particular, Ellen Burstyn, who materializes suddenly as a onetime belle yearning to shed her aging, shattered body, with Fisher’s help.

Where did that character, that scene, come from? Seemingly nowhere, and such radical, disjointed shifts in tone and focus make this one of Williams’ lesser works. And director Markell does little to help the proceedings with a few clunky, less-cinematic, and far-too-theatrical fantasy scenes. Still, Teardrop Diamond will be of interest to followers of the writer and his womanly protagonists -- and aficionados of intriguing performances by actresses.

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