A good indicator of an unnecessary subplot is one that never seems to cross paths with the A-story -- it's a problem that afflicts the new film, Starting out in the Evening, starring Six Feet Under'sLauren Ambrose and film and stage veteran Frank Langella. Ambrose plays Heather, a feisty graduate student obsessed with the works of a minor, undervalued novelist, Leonard Schiller, played by Langella. Schiller is long past the point of imagining that he will be widely recognized in his lifetime for his work, and has settled into the quietude of old age, but Heather is so determined to gain access into his private world that she brazenly positions herself as a sexual thrill for the 70-something man, and he somewhat half-heartedly takes the bait, leading to a believable but half-cocked courtship and an interesting exploration of a completely lop-sided relationship. Good fodder for a feature-length motion picture, but for some reason director Andrew Wagner also shoehorns in an entire relationship drama centered about Lili Taylor, playing the lovesick, 40-something daughter of Schiller.
The notoriously press-shy Lauren Ambrose was not readily available to speak about her role during the film's recent press jaunt, but that's a shame, because her character is far and away the most intriguing aspect of the film. Heather is very believable as one of those early-20s graduate students who seem to have crammed a lifetime's worth of reading into the years when they could have gotten some fun out of life, making for an inherently sad but also clever and resourceful personality, able to stand toe to toe intellectually with someone who has fifty years on her. The best scenes in Starting Out come closer to the beginning of the film than the ending, when Schiller is continually rejecting Heather's entreaties to be his chronicler-muse-companion. Although he keeps telling her no, she keeps coming up with reasons to jam her foot back in the door, like some kind of bookworm stalker who knows exactly how to keep from being confronted with a final, stern rejection. These early scenes are spot-on and very well-executed.