In & Out [1997]

It's a familiar story: Pretty young thing shakes up silver-haired recluse. With the recent exception of Venus, however, most such efforts fall flat. In adapting Brian Morton's novel, Andrew Wagner treads well-worn ground, but avoids most pitfalls of the genre. It helps that his theatrically trained cast sidesteps cliché in their finely calibrated performances (including Jessica Hecht as a savvy magazine editor). He also refuses to exploit his female protagonist. Heather Wolfe (Six Feet Under's Lauren Ambrose) is confident and intelligent, but she's neither sociopath nor muse. The grad student approaches New York novelist Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella in a deceptively subtle turn) about interviewing him for her thesis, but he declines. He's working on his fifth book--the first four are out-of-print--and doesn't have time to spare. She flirts and cajoles until Leonard starts to yield. It's an open question whether the author is charmed more by her admiration or her good looks. There's shading in Heather's methods, too, since she has difficulty distinguishing the man from the myth. Leonard's daughter, Ariel (Lili Taylor), is concerned their relationship is unhealthy, while he feels the same about her rekindled romance with former flame Casey (Adrian Lester). She wants to have children, he doesn't, and Leonard doesn't want to see her get hurt again. In the end, each charts their own course, resulting in a hopeful--if hard-won--conclusion. Written over two years and shot in 18 days, Starting Out in the Evening puts most big-budget literary dramas to shame. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

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