Translating unspoken thoughts to the screen is a difficult task. It is one that Andrew Wagner's new film Starting Out in the Evening (PG-13 for sexual content, language, and brief nudity), based on Brian Morton's novel of the same name, attempts with the best of intentions if not results.
Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose) is a master's student at Brown planning to resuscitate the career of aging novelist Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella) with her thesis. To get to the bottom of his work, she seeks out the author and begins to interview him. This results in some May/December flirtations and a stroke.
The interactions between the lithe graduate student and the aging novelist are both unsettling and intriguing, but the film is unable to recreate the delicate balance of emotions that Morton created in his book.
Langella paints the perfect picture of a man who has been overlooked by history, but plods on with his task. Convinced of his own artistry, Leonard continues to write, knowing full well that he may never be read again. Ambrose is a gifted actress, but her Heather is more sycophant than budding intellectual. She approaches Leonard with a sexuality that borders on perverse.
More interesting is the dynamic of Leonard's daughter, a one-time dancer who teaches yoga and suppresses her desire for children to be with a man who will not entertain the option of procreation.
She is the opposite of the freewheeling women Leonard writes, an irony that the film enjoys exploring. But an intense flattery paid to old school liberal intellectualism and ascetic artistry overwhelms some of the interesting dynamics taking place on-screen.
Rather than doing justice to Morton's novel, the film-like Heather with her thesis-will get credit just for the thought.