Frank Langella turns in a memorable performance in Starting Out in the Evening, a poignant drama about an aging author who is struggling to release one last great piece of work. A movie that most people haven't heard of, Evening is one of the hidden gems of 2007.
Now out on DVD, Evening introduces us to acclaimed American author Leonard Schiller, who hasn't released a new book in so long that most people have either forgotten or discarded him. When a graduate student selects Leonard as her thesis project, he finds his sedentary life suddenly thrown into upheaval. As she asks tough questions that no one has dared to ask before, Leonard finds himself more compelled than ever to keep writing - but also drawn to the young woman.
There is nothing remarkable about the story, yet director Andrew Wagner has created an engaging drama that keeps you intertwined with all the characters. I especially liked that of Leonard's daughter, played by Lili Taylor. I've never been a big fan of Taylor, but she does an exceptional job with her complex, flawed character, who strives to meet her father's demands that she find a proper man when she has several options, none of whom are remarkable but all are decent men in their own right. You can see the frustration in Taylor's eyes as her character doesn't know what she wants in life, but it seems as though her father knows so well.
It's the little things, the subtle complexities of each character, that gives Evening its power. Langella is great; on the surface, he is simply an old man who is past his prime, but as the film explores his nature, that layer unfolds revealing a whole lot more. Langella never truly gives in to his character's weakness, and that is what is so great about his performance; he could have gone the easy route and delivered a knock out punch, but instead he opts for the more subtle and ultimately more challenging road. There were a lot of great performances in 2007, and Langella was one that was, for the most part, overlooked.
If there was a weak link, I'd say it was Lauren Ambrose's character. While she does a fine job, I had trouble getting and understanding the intentions and complexities of her character; then again, maybe that was the point.
Starting Out in the Evening is a great little film with terrific writing and excellent acting, and worth seeing.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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