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Intergenerational Relationships:
Conversations On Practices And Research Across Cultures
by Elizabeth Larkin (editor)
(Discounted Hardcover from Amazon)
. "Starting Out In the Evening" [Possible SPOILER in this color]

While fitting into another one of those low budget New York City dramas whose intended purpose is to keep east coast actors busy at their craft ("Heights," "The Great New Wonderful"), This awfully-titled one finds a niche in the arthouse corner. The literary intelligentsia might find a reason in it to leave the library for a couple of hours. The central figure's writing block and methods to overcome them should resonate down academic alley.

Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella) is too old for a lot of things. A good chunk of his years has been in devotion to a novel he can't find a way to finish. If he's anything, it's disciplined. He rigorously applies his waning genius for the written word at precise times of the day in the quiet and solitude of his New York apartment's study. All too quiet. Some days, the keys on his aging typewriter don't make a sound.

His daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor), totally observant of his routine, respects it and maintains a close connection. Unhappily lonely and unmarried, she is considering a reunion with an old flame despite the fact that they split over his refusal to have a child. Leonard sees Ariel's situation objectively and advises against a re-connection. But Casey (Adrian Lester) has returned to the city and Ariel is returning to her inner urgings. She restarts the romance.

One day, Heather (Lauren Ambrose) rocks the Schiller boat by showing up in Leonard's flat in order to interview him for her graduate thesis. But, it's more than that and we're about to embark on one of the strangest relationships ever to suggest itself as the makings of a romance.

Leonard is flattered by her attention, thinking of it strictly in an academic framework. He fends off her idolatry of his first two novels that are no longer in print, but appreciates her wish to revive the literary world's appreciation of his work. It's a possibility, given the fact she's been published in at least one literary journal.

She pounds the poor man with questions that seem harsh and indelicate in their attempt to get inside the mind that produced what to her are masterpieces. She probes his deeply buried past, work habits and creative theories. As unrelenting as he allows her to be, and entirely responsive to his wishes, there seems to be something else at work here. This red-haired fox exhibits all the earmarks of a groupie who knows the affect she has on men.

But what's a man of some years to do with a young, attractive firebrand who's worship begins to look more and more like a seduction? Will she break down his intellectual rigidity and self image and reignite long-dormant impulses? For the answer to that, you'll want to see the movie by director/co-writer Andrew Wagner ("The Talent Given Us") and co-writer Fred Parnes in their adaptation of Brian Morton's novel. And novelistic it is. "Lolita" move over.

There is a scene in which old Leonard is about to submit to his erotic impulses. Lying on his bed, side-by-side with his enticer, he floats his hand inches above Heather's very willing but clothed body, from her head on down. Foreplay? But, a scene cut leaves what happened then to the imagination, unrequited.

Fine, I can understand if Langella (or Ambrose) was reticent about any exposure of flesh in a matter of personal prudishness. But such minimalism, one could argue, offers more artificiality than taste, a bit jarring for an audience enjoying a drama of such fastidious erudition and integrity.

Otherwise, the performances are top notch. Langella is pure artfulness in revealing the authorial process, down to the creative self-deceptions and methods that any writer can recognize as coming from someone who's "been there" -- a knowing and sympathetic mind. His "aging" as a result of a trauma is awesome. Taylor's Ariel is about the best role she's had in many a moon and she's vibrant in it. Lester provides just the right notes of a sensitive man forced to face his selfishness, until extreme unselfishness causes him to adjust his value system.

If not for what I'll call the inexplicit moment, this apartment drama might have been an effective demonstration of talent overcoming the thinnest of budgets.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Frank Langella and Lauren Ambrose
An affair of the mind.

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