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Frank Langella in "Starting Out In The Evening"

"Starting Out In The Evening"
A film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

Sitting at a keyboard waiting for the next word or thought to spill from the Muse and out onto the monitor screen is how the film, "Starting Out in the Evening" concludes. But Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella) is a faded novelist of 70. He's using an old clunky typewriter in the scene, and his 'monitor' is a plain sheet of white paper.

Professor Schiller lives on New York's Upper West Side. He's a retired widower and the author of four novels long out of print. "Starting Out in the Evening" is the process by which Leonard Schiller discovers it's never too late to start afresh---even when time is short and ten years have slipped away since he began daily work on his unfinished fifth novel.

Lauren Ambrose

Lauren Ambrose

Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose) enters Leonard's life abruptly. She's an intelligent, 25-ish Brown graduate student about to begin her master's thesis. Struck by Leonard's writing, Heather wants her thesis to be on his books and how they connect with the author.

Her ambition and charm soon change Leonard's first response that the young woman has "embarked on a project of questionable merit." In fact, a young graduate student's master's thesis just might jump-start interest among contemporary publishers for his fifth work.

Ariel Schiller (Lili Taylor) is Leonard's 40-year-old, single daughter. She is not of her father's literary world, but a grounded, responsible woman who's been a dancer and teaches yoga. She's desperately listening to her biological clock tick. Casey, Ariel's former lover, has recently resurfaced. They're crazy for each other, but Casey doesn't want kids...just as much as Ariel does.

Frank Langella and Lili Taylor

Frank Langella and Lili Taylor

"Starting Out in the Evening" locks Leonard, Heather, Ariel and Casey in a mismatch: Leonard loves literature and is old. Heather loves literature and is young. Ariel loves Casey and longs for motherhood. Casey loves Ariel, eschewing fatherhood.

Complicating these disconnections are Ariel's mistrust of Heather's agenda for Ariel's father, as well as her dad's attitude toward Casey---given Casey's feelings for not wanting a child with Ariel before the ticking stops. You see, it's not just Ariel's clock that ticks. Leonard's ticks as well, but with much greater finality than his daughter's.

Following a growing intimacy with Heather, Leonard suffers a stroke. The novel he's diligently worked on for so long remains unfinished. And Heather's incisive analyses of his published works give Leonard pause about where he's really going with his present writing and why his current characters seem, as he puts it, "not to be doing anything interesting."

On an 18 day shooting schedule, Andrew Wagner ("The Talent Given Us") has directed "Starting Out in the Evening" from a screenplay he and Fred Parnes adapted. It comes from Brian Morton's 1998 novel of the same name.

The film has not one sentimental frame. It's a beautifully understated motion picture much like Langella plays Leonard. The character's restraint overwhelms as does Langella's performance.

Ambrose and Taylor are just as good playing Heather and Ariel. You may remember them cast as sisters-in-law in the HBO series, "Six Feet Under." (Claire and Lisa Fisher) Adrian Lester also shows a strong talent cast in Wagner's film as Ariel's lover, Casey.

Much as the current film,"The Savages," pictures like "Starting Out in the Evening," are sometimes overlooked even when an ensemble cast gives a clearly award-deserving performance as this one does. So remember to buy your tickets and cast your votes wisely.

"Starting Out in the Evening" preview

"Starting Out in the Evening" official site.
Opens at Tulsa's Circle Cinema Feb. 11.
Watch Yahoo Movies  for Tulsa theaters & times.
Gary Chew can be reached at gchw7@yahoo.com
Copyright © 2008, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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