Thursday, June 12, 2008

Starting Out in the Evening

What a lovely, perfect movie. I fell deeper in love with it minute by minute, and the more I thought about it afterward, the more it resonated with me. The acting is fantastic, especially the performances by Frank Langella and Lili Taylor (though Lauren Ambrose and Adrian Lester are wonderful as well). The characters are complex and well-shaded, and the parallels between the two main stories are subtle, yet well drawn. It's heartbreaking, but simultaneously uplifting -- just a quiet, sad, intimate story that makes you think long after its conclusion.

The plot concerns an aging, frail novelist named Leonard Schiller whose works have slowly faded into obscurity over the years (in fact, they're mostly out of print). An ambitious, eager grad student named Heather, whose personal investment in Schiller's works has developed into something like infatuation, has decided to write her master's thesis on his novels, with the intent of reviving interest in his literary achievements. Meanwhile, Schiller's adult daughter struggles with her desire for children as she nears middle age and re-embarks on a relationship with a former lover who doesn't share her dreams.

What follows is a profound meditation on self-worth, happiness, hope, the indignities of age, the decline of the literary age, the nature of love, and the meaning of freedom. The characters' struggles are beautifully rendered and, most importantly, realistic. I particularly liked the honest portrayal of romantic relationships, which proved that love is not all you need. Love is a wonderful thing, but true compatibility is what really matters -- finding someone who's fundamentally right for you. I also really enjoyed the exploration of selfishness versus self-abdication, and that middle road of selflessness that you can occupy without giving up your sense of self. Kudos to Adrian Lester and Lili Taylor for fleshing out such an essential story.

Starting Over also highlighted the sad scarcity of literature in a world of instantaneous, mindless entertainment. There's such a small market for literary fiction these days; it seems like celebrity tell-alls and self-help books are the only books that sell. I love this movie for making literature feel essential again. It made me feel that thrill of discovery that great novels spark in me.

I wish more movies would strive for such emotional honesty and effortless storytelling. I'm all for mindless entertainment (Iron Man, for instance, which was hugely enjoyable), but there's something to be said for a film that sparks philosophical debates and also feels like having a warm, intimate conversation with a friend over hot cocoa.


Gen said...

Hey Autumn!

Your review inspired me to watch the movie, and I’m so glad that I did. It was such a thoughtful and engrossing film. It was especially compelling to watch Lili Taylor and Adrian Lester portray how a shared history informs how two people interact. It was also refreshing that their relationship had both comfort and passion (a rare combo in most movie relationships), yet there was still tension arising from discrepancies in their needs as individuals. The movie did a great job of fleshing out that theme, among so many others!

Also, hi! I read your blog! I’ve never commented before, so I’m going to take a moment now to mention that I really enjoy reading your perspective on things and that you have a very strong voice and style that comes through in your writing that really resonates with me.

P.S. I notice that the title of the movie corresponds with the title of your blog. Coincidence…?

Autumn said...

Thanks! I always assumed that my mom was the only one who read my blog. :)

I totally agree with you about the dynamics of that relationship - I found their story to be much more compelling than the "A" plot, actually.

The title of my blog is actually a Led Zeppelin song title, so it's purely a coincidence - but good catch! I didn't even realize.

Lisa said...

Thanks for highlighting this movie. It sounds great and I think I would have missed it if I hadn't run across your post. Interesting reading!