Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Starting Out In The Evening: Write Your Next Thesis on Dracula

Starting Out In The Evening - Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella), a seventy year old out of print novelist, is seduced by the energy and ambition of Heather (Lauren Ambrose), a graduate student, into cooperating with her masters thesis. Heather wants the world to rediscover Leonard's work and she plans to make her own reputation in the process. The two form an odd, sometimes interesting relationship, as Leonard, normally driven by his work, can't seem to say no to Heather's sometimes intrusive quest. Leonard's daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor) wants a child as she nears 40, but ends up rekindling a relationship with Casey (Adrian Lester), a relationship she had ended because Casey was uncompromising in his wish to avoid fatherhood.

Heather's research veers quickly into an uncomfortable examination of Leonard's personal life, adding tension as the relationship edges into a strange romance. Leonard is struggling to finish his last novel. He has followed his characters for ten years, waiting for them to do something interesting, and they have failed him. The film follows the same course, tracking Leonard closely for weeks as little happens, a parallel that may work in the original novel, but does not translate well to the screen. Although both Leonard and Ariel eventually find paths that preserve the meaning of their lives, the story moves at a glacial pace, as if the director and coscreenwriter Andrew Wagner fears that a stronger story line will distract from the delicate character study. A subtle and persuasive performance by Langella sells the relationship with Heather as believable, even somewhat interesting, but it isn't quite enough to sell the film.

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