Once when I was dating another writer, he expressed concerns for his future happiness by sharing this with me:
"Writers are essentially very selfish. They HAVE to be to write well, and I know that means that I probably won't be able to have a close relationship with anyone, really".
That's always stuck with me - and if I had to apply one main theme to Starting Out in the Evening, that one would fit perfectly.
Director Andrew Wagner handles his subject matter deftly - there's a realism in the shots that make the film feel very intimate - much more like a play than a movie. But the talent lies in the delivery of the lines. Frank Langella is giving one of the performances of his career here, and it definitely shows. Lauren Ambrose does an excellent job portraying her ambition and admiration, and Lili Taylor is near perfect in her role (as always).
Langella plays Leonard Schiller, a once-popular writer, now struggling with finishing what may be his final novel. Ambrose's character, Heather Wolfe, is a young grad student doing a thesis on Schiller. She's convinced she can revive his career by publishing a portable volume of his books -inspiring others with his writing, as she was inspired. As they meet weekly, their intimacy grows and Heather's obsession with her idealized hero starts to slowly disintegrate. Schiller is also shaken by the revelations Heather makes about his work, and the realization that it affected his family negatively, particularly his now very unhappy daughter Ariel (Taylor).
Ariel's story is about sacrifice - she's taken care of her father since her mom died, and she's given up everything for the men in her life. Both the desire to have a baby and her career have been pushed aside for a recently relationship with Casey (Adrian Lester, who also does an excellent job), something her father does not approve of.
As each person's confronts their own mistakes and desires, their motives change. The audience is then faced with the question of whether or not change is even possible. Can people really change? Is it ever too late? What can you do to affect it in your life? What can you do to affect it in others, if anything?
This film does work really well as a vehicle for making you think - the scenes are realistically awkward and uncomfortable. The interaction between characters is sometimes mundane, but that is true to life. Where it fails is in its character depth. You end up caring deeply about Schiller himself (I will not be surprised if Langella earns an Oscar nomination for this), but the other characters get lost somewhere along the way.
Overall, I'd recommend it if you want to see something interesting and very different from the typical Hollywood film - just be warned that the 111 minute running time seems even longer than that, and you may leave feeling a little unsatisfied.
Starting Out in the Evening is currently playing at the Harvard Exit (897 E. Roy St.) at 1:30pm, 4:15pm, 7pm and 9:35pm.