Though he's spent most of his career as a character actor in supporting roles, Frank Langella gives the lead performance of a lifetime in STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING, based on the novel by Brian Morton. Flanked by Lili Taylor and Lauren Ambrose, Langella is the central piece in a film that focuses on its characters. The film begins with aging writer Leonard Schiller (Langella, SUPERMAN RETURNS), a man who feels as obsolete as the typewriter he is pounding away at. Though he has four novels to his credit, he has been working on his fifth for a decade. Enter Heather Wolfe (Ambrose, SIX FEET UNDER), a grad student who plans to write her thesis on Schiller's work. She cajoles the reluctant man into helping her, and they begin a curious friendship. Meanwhile, Schiller's daughter Ariel (Taylor, SIX FEET UNDER) struggles not only with her elderly father, but also with her own desire to have children as she approaches 40. She also grapples with the decision of reconnecting with an ex-boyfriend (Adrian Lester, HUSTLE).
As the fading writer Schiller, Langella doesn't give a bold performance that screams for Oscar's attention. Instead, the actor commands the screen with a quiet presence. Heather's attempts at friendship with Schiller--and eventual seduction--may feel awkward at times within the film, but Ambrose's performance is quite genuine. As always, Taylor is impressive, and it's good to see her get a heftier role. The film's other central character is New York's Upper West Side, a player that should receive top billing. Director Andrew Wagner (THE TALENT GIVEN US) allows the neighborhood to play a central role within his engaging film.