On my night out seeing Atonement, I actually created my own double-feature and as soon as I left the theatre, turned around and went right back in to see Starting Out in the Evening. I had heard good things about it, but admit to a little anxiety from watching the trailer, as there are things that are said in the movie that sounded a lot like things from Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?. The movie's narrative follows a writer (Frank Langella) who lives a quiet, secluded life in New York. It's been years since he has had a new novel, and his previous works are out of print. He struggles with his new work, the progress of which is disrupted the day an enterprising graduate student (Lauren Ambrose) tracks him down. She wants to write her thesis about his work, as his first two novels meant the world to her and gave her the courage to be who she is. Once she is in his life, deeper connections develop.
There are many fundamental differences between Starting Out in the Evening and Horizon, but anyone who knows my book can see the basic plot similarities. I am not suggesting anything, because I know for a fact that both works developed independently of one another. Starting Out in the Evening is based on a book by Brian Morton from 1999, one I've never read, and unless Mr. Morton had somehow gained access to my notebooks with the very loose early notes for Horizon, and then managed to decode my handwriting, he couldn't have been influenced by me, either. It's just eerie to run across something and when the echo of it hits you, to think, "Whoa, that's just like something I did."
It only happens in a couple of plot points (the writer in the movie is haunted by the memory of a dead wife, for instance) and with a couple of lines; the narrative flow of Starting Out in the Evening has quite a few more detours than my book. For one, there is a parallel line of the writer's daughter (Lili Taylor), and how her relationship not only works as counterpoint to the one between her dad and his student, but also how she and her boyfriend (Adrian Lester) represent the two sides of the old man's work. His first two novels were emotional and abo"ut issues of the self, just like her (she's a dancer who believes in "artistic therapy), while his later two novels are harder things, about the world outside, less sentimental, just like her boyfriend (the editor of a liberal political magazine). Their relationships are literary, meaningful, and with purpose. Though the film drags at times, it works toward a satisfying conclusion, some things coming together, others veering away, the double work of the personal magnets we all carry inside of us.
Where the movie truly succeeds, however, is showing what it's really like to write. The tedium, the solitude, the self-possession, the rigidity of the process, the need to personify one's characters and feel as if you are living with them, sometimes to the detriment of flesh-and-blood relationships. Langella's halting difficulty with speech when interrupted while working is something I've experienced many times. But most of all, it's the ass-in-the-chair work time that you just don't ever see in movies about writers that makes it believable. The author is not an adrenaline junkie trying to experience everything to rationalize his fictions. It's shocking, I know, but he actually employs his imagination! (And for the record, for the guy who reviewed this movie on IMDB and titled his post "Writer's Block," a writer who writes every day is not suffering from writer's block, he's just suffering from bad writing.)
So, if you ever wonder what it's like to be exciting ol' me, Starting Out in the Evening will clue you in a little bit. I just want to know, when do I get my sexually and emotionally needy grad student? Seriously!
Another interesting coincidence from my movie night is that both films were riddled with the sound of typewriter keys. In Atonement, it was the irritating musical riff worked into the score; in Starting Out in the Evening, the sound of actual fingers at work telling actual stories. It should thus be no surprise which movie was good, and which one was a pile of shit.
Current Soundtrack: Kylie Minogue, "Tears on My Pillow;" Foals, Antidotes
Current Mood: intrigued
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All text (c) 2008 Jamie S. Rich