Starting Out in the Evening (2007)

November 13, 2008 § Leave a comment

Slow and measured but flawlessly acted, Starting Out in the Evening features a great performance by Frank Langella as elderly New York writer Leonard Schiller, author of four carefully crafted novels now out of print (but highly praised by some), and at work on a fourth he hopes to complete before his death.

Langella has made a career out of note-perfect supporting roles such as Perry White in Superman Returns, but here gets the lead role, an opportunity he must have relished and certainly didn’t squander.  Lili Tayler is also excellent as his concerned and loyal daughter, and Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) as a determined young student (Heather Wolfe, and giving the character the name “Wolfe” is about the only heavy-handed element in the film) working on a thesis about Schiller and making visits to his life that come closer and closer to disrupting it.

Schiller has already had one heart attack, and explains to Wolfe in an early scene that at the hospital “They cracked me open like a lobster.”  It’s typical of the good writing to be found here, and nice to see a film that isn’t hurried in the way it realistically portrays the elderly writer and student as a sort of slow-motion accident, with Wolfe slowly becoming a bigger and bigger part of his life. This isn’t to say the Schiller character gets nothing out of it — as calm and gentlemanly as he is, it’s hard to imagine a character that detests adoration. But I do admire a film that takes its time, given that some dramas hurl their characters into suffering straight away and expect the viewer to care despite not taking the time to illustrate who it is we’re supposed to care about.  Even Wolfe, as potentially harmful as she is, is given a scene at a party where the competitive academic world is illustrated well enough to demonstrate what motivates her. Recommended as a nearly flawless drama that manges to be about writing, ageing, relationships, ambition, and even certain peripheral elements, like New York.

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