STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING (U.S. / 2007)
Of all the worthy performances the American Motion Picture Academy failed to recognize last year, perhaps none was more deserving than the one given by Frank Langella in Andrew Wagner's thoughtful and absorbing drama Starting Out in the Evening, an adaptation of Brian Morton's novel of the same name. The sort of wisdom it exuded from its restrained earnestness is uncommon, and something Jack may not be ready to deliver quite yet, though in recent years, that is exactly what many of us have come to love and expect from such French legends as Maurice Garrel, Michel Bouquet, Michel Piccoli and the late, great Michel Serrault. Langella, a newly turned septuagenarian who hasn't had a prominent film role in years, plays an aging New York novelist Leonard Schiller whose stationary existence and self-inflicted obscurity gets challenged by a determined young Brown graduate (Lauren Ambrose) who insinuates herself into his life by means of a master thesis supposed to help revive public interest in his now out-of-print work. What develops is a fascinating relationship, which Wagner deftly filters through his thematic concerns (time and mutability, authorship, family) while concurrently allowing it to form a life of its own. Nearly as substantial is one Schiller shares with his aberrant daughter (Lili Taylor), a former dance instructor who desperately wants to take matters into her own hands before her biological clock reaches a crisis stage. Candidly suffused in the rich intellectual milieu of Manhattan's Upper West Side, where it was largely shot in less than 3 weeks in HD for only about $500k, the film radiates a certain casual elegance usually associated with literary French films (the impeccable production design and the use of discreet medium shots also play a role in that). Starting Out in the Evening is not perfect (Ambrose's character feels stagnant after a point) and is easy to overrate, which has been the case in many circles. The irony however is that, much like its protagonist, it is a rare species in American cinema today, and almost requires of us to do no less.
[C+ = Average / B- = Above Average / B = Good]