Combustible Celluloid
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With: Frank Langella, Lauren Ambrose, Lili Taylor, Adrian Lester, Karl Bury, Michael Cumpsty, Anitha Gandhi, Jessica Hecht, Sean T. Krishnan, Jeff McCarthy, Jerry Walsh
Written by: Andrew Wagner, Fred Parnes, based on a novel by Brian Morton
Directed by: Andrew Wagner
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, language and brief nudity
Running Time: 113
Date: 01/01/2007

Starting Out in the Evening (2007)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Author You Can't Refuse

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A pretty, bright graduate student, Heather (Lauren Ambrose, from "Six Feet Under"), with an impossibly silky curtain of red hair, decides to do her thesis on a brilliant, but out of print author, Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella). They meet for a series of interviews, and they grow closer, she attracted to his genius and stature, and he to her beauty and intelligence. (Their fling is handled delicately and tastefully.) Written by Andrew Wagner (The Talent Given Us) and Fred Parnes, based on Brian Morton's novel, the film begins a little too much like a Woody Allen film, talky and overwritten, but it soon finds its groove. Langella has received much praise for his performance as the stiff, guarded, restrained author, and though I agree that Langella is a magnetic performer, I'm not sure he completely pulled this off; it's difficult to convey stiffness without giving a stiff performance. Regardless, Ambrose is the one who makes the relationship work; her connection and reaction to him finds the holes in the character and patches them (it reminded me of Tom Cruise's ignored performance, enhancing Dustin Hoffman's award-winning one, in Rain Man). But the real reason the film works is the subplot: Leonard's daughter, Ariel (Lili Taylor), nearing forty, wishes to have a child. She re-connects with her true love, Casey (Adrian Lester), who absolutely refuses. Their stalemate is often more interesting than the main plot, and it provides an interesting counter-balance between couples. It asks: what do we want from this other person? The answer may not be here, but there's still plenty for smart audiences to savor.

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