Frank Langella (Good Night and Good Luck) brings a subtle intensity to a struggling writer in Starting Out in the Evening.
This involving drama centers on Langella's esteemed novelist Leonard who is suffering with a weak heart, and it is translating into shaping his latest project.
The other main character is a graduated student, Heather (Lauren Ambrose, known best for "Six Feet Under"), looking for information from the man himself whom she strongly admires. He is the basis of her thesis.
Leonard isn't keen on having her look at his current manuscript, but Heather has ideas on how to get into his inner circle.
The screenplay, co-written by director Andrew Wagner, also has a subplot involving Leonard's insecure daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor) going through issues with an ex-boyfriend (Adrian Lester).
The nature of the interactions on view and the understated feel turns out to be something edgy and provocative.
Old school is the way Leonard operates, not caring about current technology and what editors are interested in. While Heather exudes much ambition, Ariel knows what she wants in her early middle age, and may be underhanded to get it.
Wagner has a sure hand with the material as the characters look to have a firmer grasp on their lives. The line readings and visages of the performers are especially truthful, notably Langella and Ambrose. The interplay of Leonard and Heather delves beyond the call of examining one's life versus producing an autobiography. It's enriched by the meaning of acceptance and the source of inspiration.
Starting Out in the Evening has an elegance about it to find out what is burrowing beneath the surface. Ambrose brings much maturity to a young woman looking for much information and definition that could be more damaging than she thinks. And, Langella has a pitch-perfect part that bears much notice in how he allows his experiences and desires to carry much weight from the soulfulness and physicality that he projects.