Home > Reviews > STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING – Adam Gorgoni


November 23, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Clark Douglas: “Do you think people will still be reading your work in 100 years?” “I wonder whether people will still be reading in 100 years.”

That statement represents the heart of “Starting Out in the Evening”, one of the saddest and most reflective films of 2007. It is being promoted as a must-see piece of Oscar bait (Frank Langella’s performance is getting some attention), it is being promoted as a May-December love story, it is being promoted as an interesting human drama. However, it is not really being promoted as what it is, which is a quiet meditation on writers and the world of literature. There is a sad irony that would suggest that the reason the film is being promoted this way has something to do with the fact that most people simply aren’t interested in literature anymore.

Well, perhaps that’s not true. Rick Warren, Bill O’Reilly and Dr. Phil would probably all gladly inform us that there is indeed still a great deal of interest in books. However, there doesn’t seem to be much interest in truly great literature, in the authors that strive to transcend and illuminate rather than merely tantalize and motivate. As someone in the film says, “there’s really only a market for celebrity confessions and self-help books these days.” It makes me sad to think that if Edgar Allen Poe were alive today, he might not be considered a literary great but merely a minor cult figure, respected by many critics but unknown to most readers.

Indeed, that is the sort of situation that the gifted Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella) is in during this film. Leonard is an elderly New Yorker who has written four novels… two gentle early efforts followed by two cynical later efforts, all receiving high praise from those who actually read them. All of these novels are out of print, and Leonard has a good deal of difficulty finding a decent publisher for his upcoming fifth novel.

Leonard’s life is shaken up when an energetic female graduate student (Lauren Ambrose) enters his life. She’s doing her thesis on Schiller’s work, and her ambitions are even higher than merely doing a fine job. The student intends to revive Schiller’s career, to re-introduce him to the world, to bring his name into the mainstream. Leonard hesitates at this suggestion, he hems and haws at the idea of sitting down to do a number of personal interviews with the student. Then comes a simple yet beautiful moment: the student kisses the writer on the hand, and all thought, logic, wisdom, and reason turn to butter.

That is one of the secondary themes of the film, the ever-befuddling relationship between the mind and the body. Deep discussions of Hemingway, Kafka, and the writing process are thoughtful and wise, while scenes of physical interaction seem almost mindlessly primal by contrast. Leonard can’t bring himself to turn the student away, she grabs him from every side. Leonard’s body loves the idea of having a young woman so attractive around, while Leonard’s mind is delighted at the fact that there is someone “who actually wants to discuss R.K. Narayan at seven in the morning.”

For most of it’s duration, “Starting Out in the Evening” is a fascinating and extraordinarily compelling film. This is largely due to the deservedly lauded performance of Frank Langella, who is positively convincing playing this great writer. Langella’s performance here is so good that I actually find myself quite saddened: why has this great actor been hidden away all these years? I saw him recently in the 1979 version of “Dracula”, where he was magnetic playing the title role in an otherwise middling film. Why didn’t his career start soaring then? How many great performances have we lost to the villain known as “the passage of time”? Lauren Ambrose is also solid in her role, creating a character that is frequently surprising and complex.

Most of the great films in 2007 have been very “cinematic” in nature, movies that take full advantage of their particular medium. On the surface, “Starting out the in the Evening” would not seem to be a film like that… an old woman walking out of the theatre at my screen made the comment that “it should have been a stage play.” Though this particular story is a very intimate one, there are still technical elements that deserve some considerable note. The cinematography of Harlan Bosmajian is quiet and subdued, and the Gena Bleier’s editing keeps thing moving at just the right pace… slow and steady, but not sluggish. Best of all is Carol Strober’s production design, which makes a lot of quiet statements about places and individuals with the objects she places in the background.

The film’s score, by Adam Gorgoni, is a very low-key effort that seeks to set a gentle mood rather than comment explicitly on the action. As is often the case with intimate dramatic scores, Thomas Newman seems to be the primary influence here. The mood of the score ranges from reflective to cheerfully reflective to sadly reflective… you get the idea. Most of the cues consist of piano figure performed over a small bed of strings… the cue “Hand Over Body” in particular (featured during one of the more intimate scenes of the film) seems to directly mimic Newman’s style of orchestration with these instruments. Elsewhere, gently strummed guitars seem to echo the quieter moments of John Powell’s score for “Two Weeks Notice”, while the occasional harp or piano solo is backed up by quiet percussion. It’s a perfectly adequate score that doesn’t particularly add to or detract from the film very much.

While I have offered the film lots of praise thus far, I should make a note of a major element in the film that isn’t quite as impressive as the rest. It is the story of the romantic relationship between Leonard’s daughter (Lili Taylor) and her on-again-off-again boyfriend (Adrian Lester). This plotline is handled with a reasonable amount of professionalism and honesty, but it lacks the level of interest or insight contained in the rest of the film. Taylor and Lester are both very good actors, and keep the material afloat, but I get the sense that the film could have stronger by cutting a lot of it out.

That being said, the romantic subplot doesn’t really detract from the film in any way, and meat of this production is of exceptional quality. This is an intelligent film, one that contains a lot of thought-provoking discussion about literature, reading, and writing (to put it simply). In some ways, “Starting Out in the Evening” is a frightening film, because it informs us of just how close we are to losing some of our world’s greatest writers. Consider the film’s moving final shot, and consider the amount of contemplation it contains. How much more would it take for that shot to come to a different conclusion? “Starting Out in the Evening” is a hopeful film that inspires less hopeful thoughts, and deserves to be seen by all who value great art.

Rating: **½

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (1:04)
  • Writing Room (1:35)
  • Hand Over Eyes (0:44)
  • New Listing (1:11)
  • Illuminata (0:43)
  • Schiller Takes a Pill (0:46)
  • Have Patience (0:55)
  • Boots (0:28)
  • I’m Not Being Kind (1:02)
  • Hand Over Body (1:31)
  • Reunion at Nick’s (1:40)
  • Separate Rooms (0:40)
  • Where Are You? (1:19)
  • You Can Stay (1:19)
  • Goodbye Hug (0:48)
  • Schiller’s Critique (1:05)
  • Stroke (0:48)
  • My Daughter (2:15)
  • Casey Makes His Pitch (1:52)
  • I Want to See Him (1:20)
  • A Closed Man (0:38)
  • It’s Not Time to Die (1:11)
  • You’re Glowing at Me Again (1:25)
  • Starting Out in the Evening (1:25)
  • End Titles (2:17)

Running Time: 30 minutes 01 seconds

Lakeshore Records LKS-33970 (2007)

Music composed and arranged by Adam Gorgoni. Recorded and mixed by Ted Blaisdell and Adam Gorgoni. Edited by Brian Bulman. Score produced by Adam Gorgoni.

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