CinemaDave (cinemadave) wrote,

"Starting Out in the Evening" should have started sooner ....

Almost thirty years after portraying "Dracula" on
both stage and screen, Frank Langella has been been a
reliable character actor who has portrayed villains in
the movies ("Dave," "The Ninth Gate," "Cutthroat
Island") to support his love of the stage. Frank
Langella is enjoying a career Renaissance that comes
to hard working actors who love the craft. Winner of
three Tony Awards, Frank Langella recently won for his
portrayal of Richard Nixon for the play,
"Frost/Nixon," which has been translated into a
motion picture directed by Ron Howard. In limited
release at film festivals and in New York, "Starting
Out in the Evening," features Frank Langella as an old
leading man whose life parallels the actor's career

Leonard Schiller (Langella) is an author whose life is
recognized for writing literary greatness, the type of
greatness that modern publishers do not not read any
more. Schiller has accepted that he is at the tail end
of life and he is convinced that the book he has
written for the last ten years will be his last.
Widowed for at least ten years, Schiller has a
daughter named Ariel (Lili Taylor), a former dancer
turned pilates instructor. Ariel's biological clock is
ticking and her relationships are torn between a
reliable cop and her former political activist
boyfriend, Casey (Adrian Lester). Despite an
estrangement from their past, Schiller and his
daughter are enjoying each other company and care for
one another despite their differences.

Enter Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose), a graduate
student of literature who is writing her master's
thesis about Leonard Schiller's four books. While off
putting at first, Schiller eventually warms up to this
bright young student and finds some of his old
passions rekindling. Yet, as Heather probes deeper
into Schiller's psyche, the old writer also confronts
some of his old demons of the past. Eventually
Schiller learns to escape his past by embracing a new
future. This lesson resonates in Schiller's
relationships with Heather, Casey and Ariel.

At first glance, "Starting Out in the Evening" reeks
of being just another independent flick that features
the angst of the educated, vocabulary words found only
in the New York Times Literary Criticism section of
the Sunday newspaper and Lili Taylor. However if one
can take away the Manhattenese aspect of the film, one
can see a movie about relationships and the importance
of maintaining them. As an exercise, substitute the
author Schiller for Schiller the auto mechanic and one
sees character growth that is universal.

As Ariel, Lili Taylor is very maternal with her father
and is sometimes childish with her lovers. Adrian
Lester takes an underwritten role and finds a way to
make his Casey a noble character by the end of the
movie. As the young intruder, Lauren Ambrose
encounters her most mature romance on the big screen.
Best known for her television appearances ("Party of
Five") and goofy teen comedies ("Can't Hardly
Wait"), Ambrose begins the film in full callowness
and concludes with a a painful lesson about life and
relationships. Her final look in her last scene has
the pathos of a puppy about to be put to sleep.

Sometimes in motion picture history, a curmudgeon
character actor gets to be the center of attention in
their own motion picture. Thus is the fate of Frank
Langella as Leonard Schiller. Given some of the
character roles that Langella has performed recently
(Perry White in "Superman Returns"), Leonard
Schiller has familiarity. Langella uses this
familiarity and still manages to surprise the
audiences with original character choices and
motivation. Working in the shadows of subtleness,
Langella's final scene with Ambrose begins in pathos
and concludes with shock and surprise.

Having premiered at the Fort Lauderdale International
Film Festival in the middle of football season,
"Starting Out in the Evening," may have been forgotten
because of the film's quiet nature. However as we
prepare for football withdrawal weekends, **Starting
Out in the Evening** is a contrasting movie going
experience to "Cloverfield" and "Rambo."

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