Starting Out in the Evening (Roadside Attractions, PG-13)

film_evening_sm.jpgStarting Out in the Evening is uncommonly lovely.

 

 

film_evening.jpg 

Starting Out in the Evening recalls a small movement in American cinema that seems to have taken a leave of absence since the end of the ‘90s. At heart, the film is a small character piece, examining the two degrees of separation between a father (Frank Langella) and his daughter (Lili Taylor) and the respective individuals who appear to be shaking up their lives. Most importantly, though, it’s about smart people, people who have spent time thinking about their place in the world, their relationship to others and their relationship to their chosen work. What’s also nice about Starting Out in the Evening is how watchable its characters are, intelligent enough to engage and stubborn enough to still fuck up.

When watching Starting Out in the Evening, it’s easy to see how it could have been made ten years ago, around the time the novel by Brian Morton upon which it’s based was published. Thankfully, the film merely recalls the ’90s instead of "throwing back" to them. In some ways, it’s Bergman’s Wild Strawberries in a less self-conscious manner than Woody Allen‘s Deconstructing Harry. In the autumn of his life, Leonard (Langella) allows himself to step away from his fifth and likely final novel to meet with graduate student Heather (Lauren Ambrose) who’s decided to write her thesis on the somewhat obscure author. His daughter Ariel (Taylor) rekindles a romance with Casey (Adrian Lester), a former lover whose disinterest in having children broke the two up years prior.

Produced by InDigEnt films, which brought us the wonderful Personal Velocity and Pieces of April, Starting Out in the Evening is perfectly observant of its characters. It never exploits the personal turmoil of the intellectual and their personal relations like Margot at the Wedding does; the eventual butting of heads flows naturally. It would be negligent of me to not acknowledge that the film slips into melodrama near its finale, but for once, it didn’t bother me, as if what preceded it gave it amnesty to fall into the place you’d hoped it wouldn’t.

Starting Out in the Evening is uncommonly lovely, and for that, I would have been pleased even if the whole thing ended up being just a dream (or, more likely, the personification of Leonard’s writing). It’s also worth mentioning that Ariel delivers one of my favorite lines in the past year. When arguing between seeing The Young Girls of Rochefort and The Battle of Algiers with Casey, she contests, "I’m sorry, but I think the world would be a much nicer place if everyone got up and sang and danced for no reason." A girl after my own heart. | Joe Bowman

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