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Robert J. Siegel
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Against the backdrop of Manhattan's changing literary and publishing world, aging novelist Leonard Schiller is asked by Heather Wolfe, a graduate student and budding literary critic, to agree to interviews. He's reluctant to spend the time: his health is failing and he wants to finish one more book. Also he's worried about his daughter, Ariel, who's approaching 40, underemployed, single and wanting a child. But he agrees, hoping Heather can help resurrect interest in his work. As Heather probes Frank's writing and his past, Ariel reconnects to a former lover. Emotions can be raw and messy, and as relationships change, who gets the better part of the bargain? Written by
Stu Richel played the husband of Jill Eikenberry in a scene with her former lover, played by Frank Langella. The Jill-Frank relationship was thought not to be "central to the spine of the story" and was dropped in the final cut. See more »
When Heather sits down to drink coffee with Leonard in the morning in his apartment, they each pour coffee in their cups. Yet, when they both sit down to talk and sip, there is no coffee in either of their cups. See more »
Men my age are like chewing gum; ten minutes of flavor, and then just bland repetition.
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Langella's Superb Work Anchors the Rare Film That Captures the Solitude of the Writing Process
It should come as no surprise that this quietly affecting character study barely left a trace in theaters last year since movies about literature and the writing process are hardly fodder for young teenaged boys looking for outsized CGI-saturated extravaganzas. However, co-writer/director Andrew Wagner's ("The Talent Given Us") sophomore effort benefits immeasurably from Frank Langella's deeply nuanced performance as a once-renowned novelist long forgotten and facing his own mortality as he attempts to finish a valedictorian work ten years in development. With his recognizably sonorous voice and intensely watchful manner, the 68-year-old actor has never been known for playing sympathetic roles, but he seizes the heart of a becalmed man so engulfed in the creative process that he reacts to any intrusion upon it with a subtle, leonine fury. It's been nearly four decades since his film debut as the egotistical, caddish writer in Frank Perry's "Diary of a Mad Housewife", but what a treat to see him bookend that performance with this one.
Langella portrays New York-based Leonard Schiller, whose four published novels have been out of print for years. In declining health, Schiller tries to interest a publisher friend in his latest, yet-to-be-completed novel, but he is told there is no market for literary-type novels. Precipitously, an enthusiastic graduate student named Heather Wolfe walks into Schiller's intensely private life to request a series of interviews for a masters thesis she wants to write about him. She is such an unabashed fan that her goal is no less than having Schiller rediscovered. The author is initially resistant, but he wears down under her coquettish persistence. At the same time, Schiller's self-loathing daughter Ariel has grown up being used to playing second-fiddle to her father's work. Single and closing in on forty, she hears her biological clock ticking as she resuscitates an embattled relationship with her estranged lover Casey, who is equally vehement about not having children. The plot threads eventually mesh when Schiller opens up to Heather and realizes how dormant he has kept his feelings since his wife's death over two decades earlier.
Beyond Langella is a trio of solid performances though none nearly as impressive as his. Lauren Ambrose ("Six Feet Under") captures Heather's youthful vigor and innate intelligence, but I found her use of Lolita-style wiles to be a bit mechanical within the scheme of the storyline. Always worth watching, Lili Taylor is on pretty familiar territory as the conflicted Ariel, but she manages to bring her likeably neurotic manner to the role. I haven't seen Adrian Lester since Mike Nichols' "Primary Colors", but he's a welcome addition here as the slow-to-evolve Casey, especially in a tense small-talk scene with Schiller during Ariel's birthday celebration. In fact, much of the dialogue by Wagner and co-writer Fred Parnes has a smart, insightful quality that doesn't call undue attention to the intellectual observations of the characters. Even more, their strong screenplay makes the series of rude awakenings toward the end resonate with a combination of heart and necessary harshness. The 2008 DVD is short on extras - Wagner's thoughtful commentary and the theatrical trailer - but this small-scale film is well worth discovering, especially to see Langella at the very top of his game.
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