November 25, 2007

MOVIES: Starting Out in the Evening (Andrew Wagner, 2007)

Starting Out in the Evening opens with Leonard Schiller at his typewriter, struggling to finish the novel he's been working on for a decade. During those years of struggle, his first four novels have gone out of print, and he's been largely forgotten as literary novels have gone out of style.

Heather Wolfe thinks she can change all of that with her master's thesis, a critical biography of Schiller that she expects to revive interest in his work (which suggests to me that she has a wildly inflated view of the importance and influence of literary criticism, but c'est la vie...). Leonard is reluctant at first -- he hasn't been well, he protests, and can't afford the distraction from his work -- but an idol-worshipping young woman, especially a pretty one, is hard to resist.

Leonard's daughter, Ariel, is skeptical of Heather's motives, and becomes more so as Leonard and Heather grow closer, but she's distracted by her own relationship problems.

Starting Out in the Evening is a well-made movie, and the acting is impeccable, as one would expect from a cast that includes Frank Langella (Leonard), Lauren Ambrose (Heather), and Lili Taylor (Ariel), with key supporting roles played by Michael Cumpsty, Adrian Lester, and Jessica Hecht. But it's a movie that I admired more than I enjoyed; for all of its craft, I never found any reason to care much about any of these people or their conniving attempts to manipulate one another.

And as the relationship between Leonard and Heather becomes more intimate -- the precise extent of that intimacy is left tastefully ambiguous -- I was really creeped out; at least the analogous relationship in last year's Peter O'Toole vehicle, Venus, was leavened with a fair amount of humor, which is almost entirely absent from this movie.

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