Friday, May 30, 2008

Starting Out in the Evening

It always amazes me when a well done film for adults slips through the cracks. People always complain about the lack of product aimed at a non PG-13 Brett Ratner crowd, but seldom put their dollars where it matters. Starting Out in the Evening currently boasts a 78 on metacritic and just under a 7/10 on IMDB, yet no saw it. Apparently even Oscar voters didn't see this strong effort from director Andrew Wagner who adapted this from a novel by Brian Morton.

Essentially this is a story revolving around 4 characters with writer Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella) in the middle of it all. Leonard is approached by a grad student named Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose) to help her with her master's thesis on his life and his books. The interest of a young lass brings up a conflict with Leonard's daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor) who has relationship problems of her own with on-again off-again romance with Casey (Adrian Lestor). Heather is trying to bring out the real reason why Leonard has spent the last decade trying to finish just his fifth novel.

The dual storylines actually go together quite well especially if you figure out that Ariel and Casey's relationship is suppose to contrast the two sets of books that Leonard wrote. You see Leonard's characters were very different in the first books as told by Heather than the latter two. Those represent the two sides of Ariel's relationship. All of this is handled quite superbly by the director. You never get a sense that one half of the film lags in any way that would drag the other down with it.

Lauren Ambrose could play this role in her sleep and Adrian Lestor is always good. The two performances to talk about are Langella's and Taylor's Generally I have a disdain for the sterotypical character that Lili Taylor always plays perhaps best illustrated by the series Six Feet Under. She has limited range and a narrow comfort level it seems... but here she tones down the weepy put upon performance she always turns in. Instead she is able to craft an actual character with the help of a great script. For Langella, this seems a complete departure from his usual role as the man wearing the black hat. He gives a well thought out peformance that is every bit the opposite of something splashy like Daniel Day-Lewis's in There Will Be Blood. This much more subtle and nuanced. Langella lifts what could be a stuffy role with the wrong actor into something else.

All of this praise aside... I did have a problem with the ending. I don't want to reveal anything, but there is one scene that didn't play quite right. I can see how this would be accurate when you thing of the whole rather than the sum of it's parts... it is just that the tone feels off and the scene incomplete. I nitpick though and the average film goer might not even notice. This is a terrific movie for people who want more... expect more from their films.


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