STARING OUT IN THE EVENING
*** (out of 5)
November 23, 2007
Frank Langella as LEONARD SCHILLER
Lauren Ambrose as HEATHER WOLFE
Lili Taylor as ARIEL SCHILLER
Adrian Lester as CASEY DAVIS
Jessica Hecht as SANDRA BENNETT
Michael Cumpsty as VICTOR
Studio: Roadside Attractions
Directed by: Andrew Wagner
BY KEVIN CARR
Amid acting nominations for big-budget studio pieces like Warner Bros.’ “Michael Clayton,” DreamWorks’ “Sweeney Todd” and Focus Features’ “Eastern Promises,” the name of Frank Langella kept popping up for his work in a little film called “Starting Out in the Evening.”
This film was never to see mainstream success, mainly because of its nature. It’s a niche piece, featuring one of the last great American novelists and his twentysomething fixation. The story idea is nothing new. Trust me, with plenty of literature professors drooling over their students across this country, we’re bound to have plenty of novels written about May-December romances.
However, the tired storyline of a professor falling for a student isn’t the strength of the film. The strength is quite simply the acting. Frank Langella turns in one of his best performances of late, and he’s supported by a fine cast.
Langella plays Leonard Schiller, whose life is ending along with his career. Out of nowhere comes Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose), a girl working on her dissertation about his career. While Leonard has pretty much been forgotten by the literary world, Heather is passionate about his books. She is also passionate about him and unabashedly throws herself at him.
Leonard’s daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor) has a very open relationship with her dad, but she is skeptical of his emerging attraction to Heather. However, Ariel’s own secrets and lies prevent her from stepping in as the righteous relative. Ultimately, Leonard must come to terms with his own demons of his past to not just deal with his current relationships, but to also get his writing back on track.
In some ways, this reminds me of a slow-paced Woody Allen movie in the sense that it fixates on characters that – outside of stuffy New York society – few regular Americans can relate to. This kept me from feeling too much for the characters, but only enough that I wasn’t torn apart by their self-destructive behavior.
“Starting Out in the Evening” gets a bit high on itself in touting brilliant literary fiction and “great American novels” (which are really a fictional concept in themselves). However, it is the acting – primarily from Langella – that propels the interest in the film.