Netflix Update No. 1: “Starting Out in the Evening.”

March 2, 2009

frank-langella-41At the suggestion of a friend who seems to have unerring taste, we watched “Starting Out in the Evening,” a 2007 film with Frank Langella, Lauren Ambrose, and Lili Taylor. This film, based on a book by Brian Norton, concerns Leonard Schiller, a retired professor whose run as a successful novelist is behind him. He keeps up a rigid routine as he works on his fifth novel, but it already has been ten years in the making. His books are out of print, and he is forgotten by everyone except the occasional literary wonk. One of the latter is Heather Wolfe (Ambrose), an Ivy League graduate student who wants to base her master’s thesis on Schiller’s work and who thinks she can simultaneously call him the reading public’s attention. Schiller at first rejects the idea of such a distraction, then cautiously agrees to cooperate with the student, and eventually becomes involved in a uniquely delicate personal relationship with the young woman. The secondary and related plot involves Schiller’s daughter, Ariel (Taylor), who is about to turn 40 and is anxious about  her prospects for ever having children. Her decision to renew a relationship with a former boyfriend – for whom Leonard has no respect – is a source of tension between her and her father. Beneath both of these plots is a critical part of Leonard Schiller’s life – the turning point in his marriage – that he had hoped would remain buried in the past.

The complex story which explores issues of  personal freedom is very nicely performanced by Langella, Ambrose, Taylor and Adrian Lester as Ariel’s rediscovered lover.  Those who wish to can become engrossed in matters of literary criticism – the subject of a lot of the dialogue in this film – but the complex human stories these actors tell were enough to keep us from looking away.

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