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Starting Out in the Evening
Starting Out in the Evening
Actors: Frank Langella, Lauren Ambrose, Patti Perkins, Lili Taylor, Adrian Lester
Director: Andrew Wagner
Genres: Drama
PG-13     2008     1hr 51min

Battling illness and unable to finish a novel that has taken him ten years to write, aging novelist Leonard Schiller is slipping into literary obscurity. Formerly a famous author, Schiller has been all but forgotten by the...  more »

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Movie Details

Actors: Frank Langella, Lauren Ambrose, Patti Perkins, Lili Taylor, Adrian Lester
Director: Andrew Wagner
Creators: Andrew Wagner, Allen Meyerson, Douglas Harmon, Fred Parnes, Brian Morton
Genres: Drama
Sub-Genres: Love & Romance
Studio: Lions Gate
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Closed-captioned,Dubbed,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 04/22/2008
Release Year: 2008
Run Time: 1hr 51min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 1
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Languages: English, Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish

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Movie Reviews

'The madness of art'
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 04/27/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING is a quietly moving work of art, a film adapted from Brian Morton's novel by screenwriters Fred Parnes and and Andrew Wagner (who also directs) that dares to take us to the wall with decisions we make about how we conduct our lives and negotiate the changes that can either be stumbling blocks or stimuli for creative awareness, It has much to say about the creative process of writing, a theme upon which it first appears to be based, but it more importantly urges us to examine how we live - how we make use of this moment of time in which we inhabit a body in the universe.

Leonard Schiller (in an extraordinarily understated performance by Frank Langella) is an aging author, a man whose first two novels seem to set the literary world on fire, but whose next two novels languished on the shelves and slipped into the same plane of obscurity Schiller finds his life since the death of his wife. He has a daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor in another richly hued performance) who is nearing age forty and is unable to bond permanently with a man because of her obsession with having children before her biological clock ticks past fertility. Into their lives comes Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose), a bright young graduate student who has elected to write her master's thesis on the works of Leonard Schiller. Schiller is absorbed in writing what may be his last novel and can't be bothered with Heather's plea for a series of interviews. But curiosity intervenes and soon Heather and Leonard are involved in the process of interviewing, a process which gradually builds into overtones of Heather's physical as well as intellectual attraction to Leonard. Meanwhile Ariel observes the process that seems to be infusing life into her father and encourages her to exit her current relationship with Victor (Michael Cumpsty) and re-connect with the true love of her life Casey (Adrian Lester), a man she loves but who refuses to give her the children she so desperately wants. The manner in which these characters interact and learn from each other the importance of sharing Life instead of obsessing with selfish goals brings the drama to a rather open-ended close, another factor that makes this story significantly better than most themes of May-December romance and unilateral coping with self-centered directions.

The pleasures of this film are many, but among the finest is the quality of acting by Langella, Taylor, Ambrose, and Lester. In many ways the story is a parallax of views of life as art that subtly intertwine like a fine string quartet. Why this film was ignored by the Oscars only suggests that movies for the mind take second place to movies for the merriment of entertainment. For people who enjoy the challenge of a meaty story, this film is a must. Grady Harp, April 08"
Flawed Gem
Glenn R. Urbanas | Richmond Hill, New York USA | 12/21/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Let me state at the outset that this review concerns the theatrical release only. I have not read the book nor read any of the reviews for it. I caught this film just before it disappeared after a brief run at my local art cinema. Frank Langella deserves an Oscar nomination for his supremely restrained portrayal of a buttoned-up recluse, an emotionally remote retired professor and novelist, who has been working for years on what may well be his final novel, if he can ever finish it. It is not the first time this great actor has played a writer - for a spectacular contrast see his performance as the womanizing solipsist in `Diary of a Mad Housewife.' Here he is seduced by a flirtatiously manipulative grad student (Lauren Ambrose) into allowing her to enter his largely solitary life for the purpose of a series of increasingly pointed interviews that will help her complete the ambitious thesis she is writing about his work. So great is her apparent admiration for her `sad knight' that one wonders whether she is totally sincere, or deluding herself about him, as he may indeed be about both himself and her. But she is so flattering, intelligent, and attractive, and he is so kindly generous, that he cannot manage to oppose her when she persists. The ingredients at this point would make for a pretty good drama. However, the film suffers because, as happens with so many film dramas, too heavy-handed a final edit has reduced the main story to a series of vignettes interspersed with scenes from a largely irrelevant subsidiary plot concerning Schiller's unmarried, childless, daughter (Lili Taylor), who on the eve of her fortieth birthday, unhappy with her dull lawyer boyfriend because he does not want her to have a child by him, re-encounters an old flame (Adrian Lester) with whom she had broken up five years before over the same circumstance. The fact that her old love is black is not remarked by anyone as a problem, reflecting either the liberality of the subjects, or the presumed liberality of the audience. This rather clichéd and uninteresting sub-plot gets in the way of furthering the development of the relationship between the principals, as Heather attempts, with her combination of bookish intelligence, earnestness, and sexual provocations (whether inadvertent or deliberate we are not permitted to know), to unravel the mystery of why the stubbornly proud, and hopelessly idealistic professor, whose work is largely forgotten by a publishing world more oriented to pop culture than artistic endeavor, who refuses its offers of commercial largesse, has failed to produce anything quite as brilliant as his first two books. Something happened and we do not know what. Scenes appear to have been cut between Heather and her editor acquaintance and between Ms Schiller and her lover that might have further elucidated the mystery, that embodied by the principal characters, with their differing motives, and the budding signs of romance between them. Scenes must have been jettisoned for the sake of getting the film in well under two hours, or for the sake of maintaining the distracting sub-plot, and whether this occurred because of some perceived need to maintain the contours of the book, or a lack of inspiration at the heart of the story, is immaterial. Deserved praise is due Frank Langella for a brave, and very restrained performance along with co-star Ms. Ambrose. Regret for the deficiencies of an irrelevant and annoying sub-plot that might have been better employed to further the mystery of the tragic dilemma at the heart of the creation of art, or any great endeavor, that to continue, to succeed, a certain stubborn, dogged courage, a selfish recklessness about oneself and others, of their feelings and opinions, seems to be required."
Ira David Socol | 04/26/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This superb film really should have taken home Oscars - perhaps as many as three, for Frank Langella's brilliant lead performance, Lili Taylor's turn as the daughter, and certainly the screenplay by Fred Parnes and Andrew Wagner which discovered all the soul of Brian Morton's novel while losing only the page-count building 'for English-professors-only' references and complications.

Starting Out in the Evening is a 'small' story. The heroics are minimal, the scale completely personal, and yet on film this is never small or dull. Langella towers over the New York that has forgotten him, that has moved past a time when intellectual and creative power meant more than money. As his turning-40 daughter Taylor struggles with the battles of her own generation - hunting for both meaning and family, while Lauren Ambrose's Heather Wolfe carries the city of today into their realm, selfish and self-obsessed, consumed with the ideas of personality and fame.

It is a delicious triangle with much to say about the stages of life, the progress of American culture, and the power of creativity. But none of it is ever shouted. The script by Parnes and Wagner, along with Wagner's perfect directorial balance, and lighting and cinematography which establishes a fully-realized city and time, does not preach, it simply brings the viewer in to these three lives and trusts that we will understand.

Near perfect. Watch it. Starting Out in the Evening will be one of the best cinematic evenings of your year."
Makes Me Wanna Grab A Book...In A Good Way
R.A. McKenzie | New York | 02/04/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Wow! What an outstanding bit of drama we've got here. STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING does such a fabulous job in using the medium of film to discuss and explore the medium of writing that I will never dismiss the craftsmanship it takes to compose a single book. This is a story that takes the ambitions of several characters, weaves them together in convincing fashion, and subtly sways into another realm of thinking. Does this intrigue you? Well, in case it doesn't, let me describe the first scene of the film to you.

A young woman sits in a small diner, waiting to meet the subject of her thesis. Heather Wolfe and Leonard Schiller sit together. Leonard almost immediately thanks her for her admiration of his work as a writer, but quickly dismisses her interest because he can't be bothered while he works on another book in his old age. The beautiful interviewer reluctantly agrees to his wishes, but only after being allowed to see his home, and borrow a few copies of his out-of-print books. Just before leaving his home, Heather suddenly kisses Leonard. It is not sexual, but a rather strange gesture of admiration. While the two are meeting this way, Leonard's hurried daughter Ariel is qickly dropping in and out of Leonard's apartment.

Once Heather and Ariel leave together, we are unsettled and riddled with questions. "Did that just happen?" Or better yet, "How exactly did that happen?" You will want to explore these questions for perhaps the same reason that Heather & Leonard continue the interview process together. They are fascinated by each other's point-of-view in writing; we are stunned by the subdued performances of Lauren Ambrose and Frank Langella, two of the best of their respective generations. We don't get a firm grasp on Ariel quite yet, but thanks to Lili Taylor not missing a beat in her role, we are patient as the story progresses.

I am mentioning the way this drama develops because the lives of these three characters (and eventually a fourth, one of Ariel's former lovers) progresses in a natural, delicate, and touching way. There is clearly an attraction between the aging Leonard and ambitious Heather, but it's almost mutually metaphysical. In the end, they're writers, wanting to acheive something more through the words on a page. STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING explores the creative process of writing very carefully. What inspired Leonard to write his first two books in a very personal way? What drove him to remain detached when composing his third & fourth books? Don't be intimidated by these questions if you're not a bookworm; I'm not an avid reader, and Langella & Ambrose communicate the meanings clearly through their facial expressions alone.

Ariel's thread in the story is also about creation, but she aspires to create something outside of a book. She desperately wants a baby as she nears 40. Her latest effort is to reconnect with Casey (well-played by Adrian Lester), a man with whom their relationship split because of their disagreement over having a child. But Ariel persists, because maybe Casey will change her mind. Leonard persists as a writer, because maybe his work will be published, unlike his last effort. The need to share with another human being on some level is, I think, the key element from this film.

Although I give most of the credit to the four primary actors, STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING is still a marvel to look at. Director & co-screenwriter Andrew Wagner uses his locations of the New York City burroughs very well. If I'm not mistaken, most of this takes place in Greenwich Village, an area renowned for being a hangout for artists. The locations are very intimate and tightly-spaced, which is a good way of visually engaging us in the deep conversations that these characters have with one another. For example, when Ariel reveals to her father an early plan to conceive a child without telling the man, ask yourself: "Would this shocking revelation have worked if the two weren't scrunched together in two theatre seats?" Another small scene that got to me is when Leonard and Ariel are just hanging out in a bookstore, pleasantly browsing through the shelves & piles. I've spent hours in a DVD store, not necessarily to buy anything, but to just admire the body of work that sits on those shelves. Can you relate to the father & daughter casually talking about their lives, while skimming through pages? I'll bet you can, if not through books, then with something else. And because Taylor, Langella, Ambrose, and Lester are such giftec actors, we care whenever they're holding a book in their hand. To them, words on a page mean something. One tiny contrast is when Heather begins to realize she may dislike Leonard's last two books, while Casey is sitting in bed, and telling Ariel how much he's into her disapproving father's more detached book.

There are several pitfalls that this story could've taken, and it avoids them all. The tension between Ariel & Casey could've been turned into romantic melodrama, but thankfully it evolves into a romance involving two sensible adults. There are scenes when we sense the the relationship is doomed, but the movie keeps one step ahead bu letting the two characters acknowledge their faults. When Heather's working relationship with Leonard begins to become colder & deeper, Andrew Wagner holds back on the brooding. Langella & Ambrose are marvelous actors, but Wagner made their performances richer by not having unnecessary shots. Think about it: how many dramas like this have scenes where the contemplative characters stare their struggles into some distant sky or river?

Andrew Wagner has communicated the methods of one art form through the techniques of another. To make us care about the characters of a drama is one thing. To use movies to explain the process of creating a book is one thing. To do them both is immeasurable and invaluable.

On the DVD's commentary track, when the credits begin, Wagner simply says "Thank You" to everybody whose name comes along. It is we who should be thanking the talent for bringing such a compelling work of art to the screen in a time when they're becoming harder to find. STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING is one of the most enrichening experiences I've had in recent memory."