Starting Out in the Evening is not your typical May-December romance. On the contrary, it is a tale of facing and overcoming one’s past to look toward the future.
Frank Langella plays Leonard Schiller, a once-famous New York writer whose books are now out of print. He’s been working to complete his last novel for ten years but no one is willing to publish it. Leonard’s routine is shaken by the arrival of Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose), a beautiful and ambitious graduate student who persuades him she can use her thesis to spur a rediscovery of his work. Meanwhile, Leonard’s daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor), struggles with the ever-increasing volume of her ticking internal clock and her inability to find a man that fulfills all of her needs. As Leonard’s desire for intimacy is stirred by Heather’s non-academic interest in him, Ariel reunites with an old flame (Adrian Lester) despite their significant differences.
Based on Brian Morton’s Pen/Faulkner Award-nominated novel, co-writer/director Andrew Wagner indulges in deep hues and relies largely on the talent of his cast to tell the story of a man hiding behind his age and a woman using hers as an excuse.
Taylor is so easy to like and empathize with; her portrayal of a woman who is simultaneously desperate and loving is wonderful. On the other hand, Langella is less likeable and uneasy during intimate moments, fitting his character’s awkwardness but making it difficult for audiences to sympathize. And at the other end of the spectrum, Ambrose’s Heather is aggressive, often bordering on pushy and annoying, which seems counter-productive to her goal of exploring Leonard’s inner sanctums.
The story unfolds slowly and scarcely avoids boredom with new developments or revelations in the characters’ lives forcing the narrative’s progression. However, the lack of twists and turns causes the moments of heightened emotion to be more significant and affecting. It is these moments that linger on after the credits start to roll and the lights come back on.