Starting Out in the Evening Reviews
His stroke near the end kinda ruins it.
The daughter's story may have been a little more interesting.
There is a wonderful contrast between Lenard's apartment and the outside world as well. The georgous reds, yellows and oranges of his apartment, saturated and bright, with the gloomy, desaturated blues and greys of the streets. I'm sure that someone more adept could come up with reasons for this, but the colouration is beautiful.
... as a 70-something novelist, a last vestige of the mid-Century Manhattan literary scene - when writers cut from Arthur Miller's cloth cloistered themselves in bookcase-clad apartments to pound out serious wordcraft on Smith-Coronas, lobbied the intelligentsia party/reading circuit, and made a pretty Ivy-League co-ed swoon at a book signing.
His best 1950ish work long out-of-print and his wife/Muse long passed away, Langella's been adrift for, and unchanged by, decades. Then suddenly his mortality, his emotional isolation from his daughter, his literary obscurity, and his perpetually unfinished novel. they all come a-knocking.
The film's a eulogy, not only for the protagonist, but also for his literary era. The film warns something of great value has been lost in its passing through continual contrast with the 'industry' of today - where 'literary books are tough sells,' English majors can't earn a living, 'celebrity confessionals and self-help books' are an easy buck, and a pretty Ivy-League co-ed (Ambrose) will smooze, scheme and play anyone to make her bones as a writer.
Ambrose is rediscovering Langella through her thesis and, through that insight, ensuring her own discovery as well. Her arrival, persistence and emotional manipulation force Langella to confront his demons far too long denied, force him to start out all over again in the evening of his life.
Langella's delivery, delicate & sympathetic treatment of May-December romance, tribute to a golden age of Western literature, and portrayal of life's end as beginning - all contribute to the powerful drama within this 2007 Sundance gem.
Forged out of an 18-day shoot, a $500,000 budget, and talent nearly donated to bring a worthy novel to film. Not the stuff of wide distribution, it all but went straight-to-video, where it will surely find strong following.
In a world of celebrity confessions and self-help books, there's hardly any place for an old, white male writer who wears a suit while working at home and goes to bed early. It's the struggle between the passion of an artist and a world that has moved on and left his craft behind, and the unstoppable and tricky business of aging and coming to terms with oneself that director Andrew Wagner explores through his most recent film, Starting Out in the Evening.
The movie tells the heart-rending store of Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella), a seventy-something year old writer in his groping attempt to finish what could be the last novel of his now-forgotten, moderately-successful literary career. Until, of course, he meets Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose), a young, ambitious and presumptuous graduate student who wishes to write her dissertation on him in hope of rescuing his work from obscurity and returning it to the bookstores, or so she says. Rather, Schiller's just her her ticket into New York's literary scene. Ironically enough, Heather might just be Schiller's ticket back into the world as an established writer.
Wolfe's cynical attitude rudely clashes with Schiller's kind disposition as she attempts to weave herself into his life, and one can't help but to be averse to her artificial smile and snotty remarks. She uses her youth and audacity to prey on Schiller's vulnerability as she tries to seduce him with an acting performance that's as underdeveloped and crass as her character. Who is this girl who's so forcefully preying into Leonard's humdrum routine? Her character exposition is at best full of clichés, making Heather appear as no more than a teenage girl with a crush. One never gets to know the woman behind her frivolity.
Instead, the film takes one through Leonard's daughter, Ariel (Lili Taylor), mid-life crisis as she deals with love's imperfections, an aging father, and womanhood's callings. At the heart of her troubles is Casey (Adrian Lester), an old boyfriend who's come back into her life after their relationship hit a wall years back. Old habits die hard though, and Casey's no exception as he keeps it "hot and light" with Ariel, unwilling to settle down and start a family as she wishes to.
Every other scene one finds Leonard admonishing Ariel against her commitment-phobe of a boyfriend and how she should be steering her life and not holding on to an ideal. Sure, this gives insight into Leonard the father, the man behind his books, but regrettably Taylor's and Lester's relationship lacked substance and conviction.
As Leonard so advices Heather in one occasion, "freedom isn't the choice the world encourages and one must wear a suit of armor to defend it," and this is exactly what the characters in the film strive for ? freedom to make choices, to live, to love.
Yet, despite of the shortcomings of its plot with its lack of texture and depth, Starting Out in the Evening is delightfully salvaged by Langella's master performance. It's no wonder he embodies Schiller's character so perfectly when, as an artist himself, Langella knows how to be patient in order to produce one's best work.
"An actor's life is waiting. And when you're not waiting, you have to sift through the things that come along. Sometimes you're quite lucky and a number of things come along all at once... and sometimes you go long, long times with very little to choose from. So you must take the thing that least bothers you so to speak," he confessed during an interview.
Certainly, one will not be bother by his character in this movie. On the contrary, one will fall in love with Leonard's tenderness, twinge with annoyance at Wolfe's unscrupulous comments, but most importantly feel his very ache, deception and doubt.
So what's an intelligent, literary movie to do in times like these? Well, to put it bluntly, it surely won't make a lot of money, but as one brilliant writer once said, "that's the madness of art."