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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Starting Out in the Evening (2007)


The madness of art

STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING is a quietly moving work of art, a film adapted from Brian Morton's novel by screenwriters Fred Parnes and and Andrew Wagner (who also directs) that dares to take us to the wall with decisions we make about how we conduct our lives and negotiate the changes that can either be stumbling blocks or stimuli for creative awareness, It has much to say about the creative process of writing, a theme upon which it first appears to be based, but it more importantly urges us to examine how we live - how we make use of this moment of time in which we inhabit a body in the universe.




Leonard Schiller (in an extraordinarily understated performance by Frank Langella) is an aging author, a man whose first two novels seem to set the literary world on fire, but whose next two novels languished on the shelves and slipped into the same plane of obscurity Schiller finds his life since the death of his wife. He has a daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor in another richly hued performance) who is nearing age forty and is unable to bond permanently with a man because of her obsession with having children before her biological clock ticks past fertility. Into their lives comes Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose), a bright young graduate student who has elected to write her master's thesis on the works of Leonard Schiller. Schiller is absorbed in writing what may be his last novel and can't be bothered with Heather's plea for a series of interviews. But curiosity intervenes and soon Heather and Leonard are involved in the process of interviewing, a process which gradually builds into overtones of Heather's physical as well as intellectual attraction to Leonard. Meanwhile Ariel observes the process that seems to be infusing life into her father and encourages her to exit her current relationship with Victor (Michael Cumpsty) and re-connect with the true love of her life Casey (Adrian Lester), a man she loves but who refuses to give her the children she so desperately wants. The manner in which these characters interact and learn from each other the importance of sharing Life instead of obsessing with selfish goals brings the drama to a rather open-ended close, another factor that makes this story significantly better than most themes of May-December romance and unilateral coping with self-centered directions.

The pleasures of this film are many, but among the finest is the quality of acting by Langella, Taylor, Ambrose, and Lester. In many ways the story is a parallax of views of life as art that subtly intertwine like a fine string quartet. Why this film was ignored by the Oscars only suggests that movies for the mind take second place to movies for the merriment of entertainment. For people who enjoy the challenge of a meaty story, this film is a must. By Grady Harp

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