Starting Out in the Evening Movie Review
Starting Out in the Evening unveils the final chapter in the life of Schiller (Frank Langella), an aging novelist whose health deteriorates as he races to complete one last book. Since his existing novels are out of print, Leonard needs the next one be a success if he wants to be fondly remembered in the literary world. He's been working on the book for over a decade now, however, and has failed to capture interest from publishers. His shortcomings are not due to laziness, though. Leonard used to be a more prolific writer, but has never been the same since his wife died years prior, and neither has his work.
Leonard's daughter, Ariel (Lili Taylor), is also racing against a clock, her biological clock. She's just turned 40 and is desperate to conceive a child -- with or without an involved father -- before it's too late. Manipulative and deceitful, she spends her evenings giving men false romantic hope while having unprotected sex with them (although they are unaware of her diaphragm's absence). After dishonesty catches up with her, she stumbles back into a lively relationship with an ex-boyfriend (Adrian Lester) who challenged her desire for children in the past.
One day, graduate student Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose) contacts Leonard about a Masters thesis project and shakes up his mundane daily routine. She's writing about him and requests a series of interviews. Initially, Leonard declines the offer as he wishes to finish his novel before he gets too ill. When Heather offers to reintroduce his old novels to an interested Chicago publisher, however, Leonard agrees, but he gets more than he bargained for when Heather's true ambitions are revealed.
Don't worry, Starting Out in the Evening isn't another relationship drama between a young girl and an old man like Lost in Translation or Venus, not that those films were bad. Evening is just different. It's not about the relationship between Leonard and Heather -- although the film explores it with tenderness, perplexity, and intrigue -- it's about each character searching for something, and how human goals change as the aging process wears us down.
Starting Out in the Evening is based on a novel by Brian Morton, which comes at no surprise. Only a novelist could paint such an honest, intricate, and affectionate portrait of Leonard Schiller. Kudos to Fred Parnes and director Andrew Wagner for adapting the story with delicacy and respect for Morton's novel. They allow the characters to reveal themselves over time, and both indict and defend their imperfections. Evening demonstrates how the difference between right and wrong often depends on the eye of the beholder.
Wagner nurtures a top-notch performance from Frank Langella. Since Evening favors dialogue over physical action, the acting is critical, and Langella is the right choice for Leonard. He performs with vulnerability and grace, abandoning all traces of ego and entirely disappearing into the role. He nails the physicality of the character, but his eyes -- which juggle many complex emotions -- are what command our sentiment and attention. Thanks to Langella's harrowing portrayal, by Evening's final moments, Leonard Schiller's journey has made a lasting impact on our emotions, and will indeed be remembered for some time to come.
Can we start with some ice cream?