Starting Out In The Evening & r & & r & by DOUG NADVORNICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & E & lt;/span & ven without dialogue, the opening scene in director Andrew Wagner's terrific Starting Out in the Evening is rich in meaning. New York novelist Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella) sits before his typewriter, hands folded in front of his face, deep in thought. He's formulating the next lines to write in a novel that apparently doesn't want to be written. But he has other things on his mind too. How did a once-promising literary career that put Schiller in the middle of New York's bustling literary scene go awry? And how can he guide his soon-to-be 40-year-old daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor), whose ticking biological clock keeps sending her back to a man Schiller despises?
In the middle of his inner turmoil steps Brown University grad student Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose), a persistent Schiller groupie who wants to write her master's thesis about his work. He initially declines her request for a series of interviews, then assents, leading him not only into a sometimes uncomfortable examination of his writing, but also down the path into a brief romantic relationship with a woman 50 years younger. In his director's commentary, Wagner explains the care he and the actors took to make the relationship seem plausible, instead of creepy. Even with all that, it's still a little weird watching Schiller and Wolfe's first acts of intimacy.
This is a cerebral film that really drew me in. And for my wife and me, it was a film made for DVD. That's because we found ourselves discussing the story as it progressed before our eyes -- something more socially acceptable in a living room than in a movie theater. As it ended, I found myself wanting to know more about the characters, so I did something I rarely do with DVDs: I went to Wagner's commentary, a visual scene-by-scene Cliff's Notes version of the story. Why did he shoot the opening scene as he did? How did he use the camera to explain the dynamics of the Schiller/Wolfe relationship? And I didn't even get all the way through his explanations -- which means I can look forward to renting the movie again, just for the commentary. (Rated PG-13)