Sunday, February 02, 2014

Starting Out in the Evening

Originally written and Posted at on 9/10/08 w/ Additional Edits.

Directed by Andrew Wagner and written by Wagner and Fred Parnes based on a novel by Brian Morton, Starting Out in the Evening tells the storing of a respected but aging novelist who is falling ill as his life unravels while being unable to finish a novel that has taken him ten years to write. Seemingly forgotten by the literary world comes an ambitious graduate student who is writing a thesis on the novelist where the reclusive novelist is reintroduced to his work and confront the demons that has haunt. A mediation on regrets and aging, the film is a study of a man desperate to find meaning in his work while dealing with regrets. Starring Frank Langella, Lily Taylor, Lauren Ambrose, and Adrian Lester. Starting Out in the Evening is a poignant, harrowing drama from Andrew Wagner.

Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella) for the past 10 years has been trying to work on a new novel. After four successful novels, the once great literary figure has fallen off the face of the earth. Now a college professor, the literary world has seemed to forgotten about him as he struggles to write a new novel. Yet, he's getting older and his health is failing him. Then he comes into contact with a graduate student named Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose) who is planning to do a thesis on Schiller. Leonard isn't sure until her persistence wins him over. Leonard is also dealing with his daughter Ariel (Lily Taylor) who is approaching 40 and wants a child. Yet, she doesn't feel that it should be with current boyfriend Victor (Michael Cumptsy) as she learns her former boyfriend Casey (Adrian Lester) has returned to New York City.

Heather discusses the first two novels that Leonard wrote as they go into deep discussions on literature and what inspired him. Yet, she's looking to clues into why his writing style changed in relation to the death of his wife. Leonard doesn't try to reveal anything yet finds something charming in Heather as he invites her to a book signing party that Ariel couldn't attend. Leonard finds himself out of place as Heather defends his status to another writer (Jessica Hecht) over compromises. An attraction ensues but both Leonard and Heather resist the temptation. Ariel meanwhile, reconnects with Casey as the two start dating again much to Leonard's chagrin. Still, Casey's presence manages not to be distracting when Ariel is celebrating her birthday while Heather learns about facts that she hadn't heard about.

Heather confronts Leonard over the change in his writing style as well as why it's taking him so long. Yet, the attraction sparks as Ariel becomes a bit uncomfortable while Heather manages to complete her thesis. Yet, Leonard's health starts to wane while Casey and Ariel begin to hit bumps again in their relationship. Realizing that he might not finish his novel, Leonard begins to contemplate his life as well as his status as a writer.

First time director Andrew Wagner creates an eerie character study about an aging novelist whose status in the literary world is nonexistent. When a student tries to reintroduce him to the world, he's reluctant but willing only to realize he's running out of time. The subplot involving Ariel and Casey is more about a daughter trying to the next step in her life while her boyfriend is trying to figure out the next step in his. It's all about characters and their interaction and intentions. Though the character of Heather has great intentions, she struggles with the fact that she couldn't understand why Leonard Schiller had changed his writing style. Plus, she struggles with one of his book as she tries to be honest. It's a film about characters in the literary world and the people that become their characters. Wagner's direction is wonderfully intimate and engaging as if it's a film set on the stage.

Cinematographer Harlan Bosmajian creates a low-light look through digital cameras to create a style and intimacy to the film's interior settings that conveys the mind of Leonard Schiller with production designer Carol Strober and art director Dara Wishingrad creating that same look in the set designs and decorations. Editor Gena Bleier does fine work in the editing that emphasizes less on style and more on a pacing that's very smooth and nothing spectacular. Costume designer Claudia Brown also plays up to the film's look with contemporary clothing and suits for Frank Langella along with a youthful array of clothes for Lauren Ambrose. Sound editor Scott A. Jennings does excellent work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of New York City and its crowded, talkative literary world. Music composer Adam Gorgoni creates a melancholic, melodic score that plays up to the film's emotions without any huge arrangements or big sounds. Instead, the subtle score underplays the emotion of the characters and tone of the film.

The casting by Cindy Tolan is superb with appearances from Joie Lee as a poet, John C. Havens as a doorman, Jessica Hecht as a writer, Jeff McCarthy as a colleague of Leonard Schiller, and Michael Cumptsy as Ariel's boyfriend Victor. Adrian Lester is excellent as Casey, a former flame of Ariel who comes back to her life with new ambitions though is unsure about the idea of wanting a family. Lester's laid-back performance is wonderful as he shares the similar struggles of moving forward that Leonard deals with despite their differences. Lily Taylor is superb as Ariel, Leonard's adult daughter whose desire to want a child is also dealing with her father's relationship with Heather. Taylor's performance is wonderfully understated and charming as it proves that she remains one of indie cinema's best and most beloved actresses.

Lauren Ambrose is great as Heather Wolfe, a young woman set to reintroduce Leonard to the world while exploring his books and writing styles. Ambrose plays the character with a lot of spunk and maturity while her character is also flawed in the fact that she ends up being a bit dishonest in raising hopes up when it collides with realism. Finally, there's Frank Langella is a purely masterful, extraordinary performance that shows the brilliance of the respected veteran actor. Langella's performance is filled with such ease while carrying a sense of history as if there's a lot to know about this man. The way Langella acts around with his actors and to situations where even him silent and not really doing proves how much he can do as an actor. It's a performance that was unjustly overlook at the most recent Academy Awards and it's one that audiences shall not forget.

Starting Out in the Evening is a brilliant, harrowing debut feature from Andrew Wagner helmed by a brilliant performance from Frank Langella. With great supporting performances from Lauren Ambrose, Lily Taylor, and Adrian Lester, it's a film that is very engaging while providing a sense of what the New York City literary world is like and how it's changed from the past. The film is wonderful for an audience that just wants to see actors act and explore different worlds as if it's all told in a theater. In the end, Starting Out in the Evening is a mesmerizing film that's led by one of cinema's finest and often overlooked actors, Frank Langella.

© thevoid99 2014

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