The women in Andrew Wagner's second film Starting Out in the Evening, based on the novel by Brian Morton, tend to beam and glow an awful lot.
Lauren Ambrose plays Heather Wolfe, a graduate student doing her thesis on aging writer Lionel Schiller (Frank Langella). Heather has more than an intellectual interest in her subject; Schiller's early novels had an enormous impact on her life and her enthusiasm borders on worship. In their first scene together at a local diner, Ambrose manges to casually order a BLT while all the while beaming at the man, her face framed by shining red hair. She is a transfixing sight.
As Schiller's daughter Ariel, Lili Taylor merely glows. In fact, her boyfriend Casey (Adrien Lester) observes on more than one occasion that "Ariel is all glowy," and it's true. Taylor radiates happiness. Her expression, indeed, is almost unseemingly bright -- when she's not arguing with her father, which she does, unfortunately, an awful lot.
Frank Langella and Lili Taylor in a scene from "Starting Out in the Evening."Roadside Attractions
The early scenes of Starting Out in the Evening
are electric with sexual tension, smart dialogue, and terrific performances - especially Ambrose's. The young actress has graduated from petulant Claire on Six Feet Under
into adulthood; actually, she's more on the verge - round cheeks, sexy black boots, sleek hair, and an irrepressible intensity that seems to belong only to the young.
Despite his initial wariness, Schiller can't resist the younger woman, nor does her try particularly hard. But Ambrose is also a convincing intellect; her Heather gets past Lionel's guard through to his mind as much as to his body. When complications set in, however, my initial engagement with the story began to wane. It is bad enough to watch Schiller accept the day to day indignities of his stalled career; later emotional scenes set in the hospital erase all of the film's early glow. My perhaps shallow commitment to the film mirrors that of Heather Wolfe's to her subject: good time over, red headed girl moves on. But the movie isn't.
Langella gives such a convincingly gruff performance as Schiller a cantankerous old man, that I never did warm up to him. Starting Out In The Evening is intended to be Schiller's story, an intimate portrait of a writer; instead, I was interested in his women, beaming and glowing and also talking their way into fully realized, flawed, fascinating characters. Ambrose and Taylor's time on screen rarely intersects; that would have been a different movie, but one I would have preferred.