Starting Out In The Evening (Maple, 2007) D: Andrew Wagner, w/ Frank Langella, Lili Taylor. Rating: NNN; DVD package: N
Skip the commentary unless you like being told what to think.
In it, director and co-writer Andrew Wagner spends 90 per cent of his time relating every nuance of everybody’s inner life in far more detail than you’d ever deduce from what’s on screen. Such usurpation of the audience’s function is just plain insulting, and doubly so when it’s done by a guy who explicitly tells us he wanted everybody on the shoot, including himself, to approach the scenes without preconceptions. Some of what he says is flat-out ludicrous and made more so by his bizarrely fragmented speech rhythms.
The commentary aside, Wagner has delivered an interesting, well-acted story. When a cute 20-something grad student (Lauren Ambrose, of Six Feet Under) shows up to do her thesis on an aged, out-of-print novelist (Frank Langella), we expect a May-December romance. It isn’t. The writer is too self-centred for romance, but he’d like to regain the recognition he once enjoyed. The student worships him and thinks that rediscovering him for the public could launch her own career. At the same time, the novelist’s daughter (Lili Taylor) is nearing 40 and struggling with the man in her life and her desire to have a baby.
It’s an actor’s piece all the way, and the cast fully rises to the occasion. Langella and Taylor, as always, deliver great depth of feeling despite their characters’ limited display of emotion. Ambrose keeps up with them, delivering a restrained performance pitched only slightly higher.
Wagner gives his cast lots of room and lots of time for us to watch their reactions. Often, though, he’s too leisurely, as if he’s infected with the same emotional repression as his main character.
EXTRAS Director commentary. Widescreen. English, Spanish subtitles.