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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 »
While Heather drinks orange juice with Leonard, the amount of orange juice in her glass changes several times, and her bangs switch back and forth between disorderly and parted neatly in the middle. See more »
Men my age are like chewing gum; ten minutes of flavor, and then just bland repetition.
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Some writers receive early praise in their careers. Some even more talented ones never get their due because their work is not commercially satisfactory. In fact, it could be said that fame eludes a lot of brilliant authors who, as in the case of Leonard Schiller, must resort to a life of teaching in the great universities of the country. Schiller has only produced four novels, which sadly, seem to be out of print and unappreciated by even serious readers.
It is at this juncture of Leonard's life that a change occurs. When the eager young Heather, who wants to base her thesis on his books, comes to visit to ask if it could be possible to enlist him to help her with her paper. Leonard Schiller feels flattered and repulsed at the same time. He is a private man who has shunned notoriety and wants to stay that way, but ends up in going along with the young woman.
Leonard, a widower, has a daughter, Ariel, a woman in her early forties who believes her biological clock is running out of time if she is to have a baby. She had wanted to have a child with Casey, who doesn't cherish the thought of fatherhood and had broken with her. When he reappears, they renew their relationship with mixed results because Casey can't commit. This disparity is pointed out to Ariel by her father, who feels she is not getting her due.
Heather, we see moving closer and closer to Leonard. It appears inevitable they are headed for an involvement, one that he feels is more than what he wanted to get, especially with a woman way too young for him. The intensity of the feeling she provokes in him, surprises Schiller, who is in ill health, but he gives way to his fears jumping into an affair which will prove will not benefit either one of them.
"Starting Early in the Evening" is a small triumph for the team behind it, notably for director Andrew Wagner who gives the light touch the story requires. The film which is based on a Brian Morton book, which we haven't read, translates beautifully for the screen.
Frank Langella is simply marvelous playing Leonard Schiller. He is worth the price of admission. Obviously, the actor knows well how the character he is playing reacts to all the new sensations he discovers at a late age when the young woman comes into his life. Mr. Langella has never been better and more effective as he is in here. His take on this forgotten scholar is right on target.
Lauren Ambrose, whose work we have admired before, makes quite a case with her Heather. She is an eager young woman who probably has no intention of falling in love with the older man, yet, in her admiration for the author, she leaps into a serious situation that might not mean anything to her, yet, it has given Leonard a new taste in life.
Lily Taylor's Ariel is a complicated character. As the daughter, she is protective, yet, she ends up accepting a woman, much younger than her to be her father's lover. At the same time, her own life is in turmoil because of the motherhood she feels is denied to her. The brilliant Adrian Lester and Jessica Hecht add to the enjoyment of the film.
The film has a foreign film feeling to it. Andrew Wagner shows a sure hand in the final product and one can only wish him to continue along this way because he shows that he has talent and an eye for bringing out those hidden emotions in this interesting film.
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