The film begins with aging writer Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella), a man who feels as obsolete as the typewriter he is pounding away at. Though he has four novels to his credit, he has been working on his fifth for a decade. Enter Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose), a grad student who plans to write her thesis on Schiller's work. She cajoles the reluctant man into helping her, and they begin a curious friendship. Meanwhile, Schiller's daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor) struggles not only with her elderly father, but also with her own desire to have children as she approaches 40. She also grapples with the decision of reconnecting with an ex-boyfriend. 

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8 Oct 2010 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 8 Oct 2010 - 12:00 AM

4
An ageing literary lion rages at the dying of the light.

Here is a small but exquisitely made drama about two people who love literature more than life itself, featuring an outstanding performance by Frank Langella.

Based on a 1998 novel by Brian Morton, Starting Out in the Evening is also a poignant, moving study of the chasm between the exuberance and idealism of youth and the weariness and regret of old age.

Langella plays Leonard Schiller, a once-prominent novelist who’s struggling to finish his fifth and final book after suffering a heart attack. Into his ordered, cloistered world comes Heather Wolfe (Six Feet Under’s Lauren Ambrose), an ambitious young graduate who wants to write a critical biography of his work for her master's thesis. Initially he rejects her, fearing it would be a distraction, but relents after an old publishing acquaintance warns him it’s a tough market for 'literary’ novels now, when celebrity confessions and self-help books are in vogue.

Heather, who has idolised Schiller since she read his first two novels, unsettles him by asking intrusive questions about his private life. An unlikely romance develops, which could have been creepy considering their age difference, but rings true thanks to pitch-perfect performances by Langella and Ambrose. The emotionally-contained Schiller, who’s not loved anyone since his wife died 20 years ago, can’t helped but be moved when Heather shows him some tenderness. His non-literary daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor) disapproves, muttering, 'It’s against nature."

Ariel has an equally problematic relationship with her former boyfriend Casey (Adrian Lester). They broke up five years ago because he didn’t want kids and she did. About to turn 40 and with her biological clock ticking ever louder, Ariel is tempted to give it another shot.

Schiller’s waxing and waning relationships with Heather, Ariel and Casey infuse the movie with an impressive dramatic intensity, adroitly masterminded by director Andrew Wagner, who co-wrote the screenplay with Fred Parnes.

An actor with a powerful presence, Langella here uses his remarkably expressive eyes and slow movements to portray a man who, while accepting he must confront his own mortality, relishes a final fling with the brashness and confidence of youth.

Extras include an illuminating audio commentary by Wagner.

Details

M
1 hour 48 min
Wed, 05/06/2009 - 11

Genres