Starting Out in the Evening Andrew Wagner

Starting Out in the Evening Andrew Wagner
This is a movie that plays better in outline than in practice. The story, in which an ambitious grad student (Lauren Ambrose) has an affair with an aging Saul Bellow-ish writer (Frank Langella), has its qualities. The immediate judgment that both parties are using each other isn’t so much defeated as taken beyond moralism into what they learn from their mutual exploitation.

Ambrose has her youthful arrogance taken down a peg as she pursues her out-of-print literary idol, while Langella’s retreat from reality into silence (and chewing over a manuscript for ten years) is proven to be the self-piteous folly it is. Plus, Langella’s pushing-40 daughter Lili Taylor is thrown into the mix, whose co-dependent relationship with her father precludes her own life.

The movie is enjoyable, in terms of watching this diagram play itself out, but the characters have a nasty habit of opening their mouths. It’s clear that director Andrew Wagner and writer Fred Parnes are a tad literal minded — the film takes place in a literary milieu that is more presented than understood, and the characters all refer to their personal tastes rather than suggesting them in nuance. This is one of those movies where someone mentions a couple of classic film rentals and you know they’re acting as a mouthpiece to voice the filmmakers’ fave flicks; it’s that blunt and that obvious.

Still, the performances are quite good (especially poor, beleaguered Langella) and one can see the point of the thing underneath the unsubtle wrapper. It might be hard, given its rapturous critical reception, to go in with lowered expectations, but that’s the best way to approach this no-big-deal but no-mean-feat movie. (Maple)