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December 20, 2007 - Image 38

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2007-12-20

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'Starting Out In The Evening'

Film examines
Jewish novelist's
life of the mind.

Michael Fox
Special to the Jewish News


eonard Schiller, the frustrated,
forgotten, 70-something novelist
at the center of Starting Out in the
Evening, symbolizes a dying era in Jewish
Played with cultured reserve by the for-
midable Frank Langella, Schiller is closer
in style and sensibility to Saul Bellow than
to Norman Mailer.
Co-writer-director Andrew Wagner,
who's in his mid-40s, knows that ethnic
and literary terrain well. But it was his
reverence for the solitude of the writing
process that impelled him to adapt Brian
Morton's 1998 novel for the screen.
"It's hard to say I identify with Leonard

as a Jewish writer in today's world:'
Wagner explains. "My strongest personal
pull to the book has to do with the journey
of the artist over time through loneliness,
through the questioning of our own lives
and the world around us."
Wagner is an earnest fellow, albeit with
an easy laugh, and he chooses his words
carefully during a leisurely Sunday after-
noon chat prior to his film's showing at a
Bay Area film festival. It befits someone
who's been a writer since his undergrad
days at Brown, and who strives to main-
tain an intellectual and spiritual existence
amidst the hedonism of his adopted city
of Los Angeles.
"I'm probably more identified with the
, cultural aspects [of Judaism] than the
traditional religious pinpoints:' he muses.
"It was important to me that there was
Jewishness in [Leonard's] background
becauseit kicked up feelings of familiarity
with his world — the fact that he was a
New Yorker from the Upper West Side, liv-
ing only blocks from where I grew up.
"Because he was Jewish, I think I under-

stood him on a cellular level. I could feel
his life, even though he and I are from dif-
ferent generations."
The staid, widowed Schiller, whose
main contact with the world is through
his 39-year-old, still-unsettled daughter,
Ariel (Lill Taylor), is thrown for a loop in
Starting Out in the Evening by an ambi-
tious grad student (Lauren Ambrose of Six
Feet Under) who wants to revive his legacy
and short-circuit his current writer's block
(he's been at work for 10 years on what is
to be his last novel).
The screenplay acknowledges Schiller's
Jewishness (the novel won the Koret
Jewish Book Award for Fiction) but to
a lesser degree than Morton's work.
Accordingly, Wagner and Langella never
discussed Leonard's Judaism in meetings
or on the set.
"It's a quiet, subtle shading that helps
create a sense of history about the man:'
Wagner explains. "Our goal was not to
define Schiller through his Jewishness but
allow it to be a part of his makeup, so it
just existed in the collective unconscious


Nate Bloom
Special to the Jewish News

Chinese & A Movie

In addition to the other movies
featured in this week's Arts &
Entertainment section, there are
quite a few others with Jewish
connections – all opening Friday,
Dec. 21 – perfect for viewing after
a traditional X-mas meal at your
favorite Chinese
Treasure: Book
of Secrets is a
sequel to National
Treasure, a 2004
flick that was a
Jake Kasdan
big hit. Nicolas
Cage and Justin
Bartha, 29, co-starred in the origi-
nal and are back again. (Bartha is a
West Bloomfield High School grad.)
Both flicks were directed by Jon
Turteltaub, whose father, Saul, was
a top TV-show producer.
Likewise, Jake Kasdan, the
director of Walk Hard: The Dewey
Cox Story, is "second generation."
Kasdan, 31, is the son of famous


December 20 • 2007

director, U-M grad and former
Michigan resident Lawrence Kasdan
(The Big Chill, Body Heat); Jake was
born in Detroit (his mom is Detroit
native Meg Kasdan) but grew up
in Los Angeles. His previous flicks,
Orange County and The TV Set, did
modest business but earned pretty
good reviews. Jake co-wrote Walk
Hard with the hot Judd Apatow;
it's a fictional comedic satire of
the musical bio-pics of recent
years. John C. Reilly stars as Cox,
a famous singer who has played in
a variety of musical styles during a
career that began in the '50s. The
film intertwines him with a long his-
tory of musical figures, including
the Beatles. Playing small roles are
Paul Rudd, 38, as John Lennon and
Jason Schwartzman, 27, as Ringo
In P.S. I Love You, Hillary Swank
stars as Holly, a woman married to
the love of her life – a passionate
and funny Irishman named Gerry
(Gerard Butler). Just before sick-
ness takes his life, Gerry records 10
messages for Holly. Each is deliv-
ered over the course of months in a
surprising way, sending Holly off on
adventures of self-discovery. Gina

Gershon and Lisa Kudrow (Friends)
play Holly's best friends.
Charlie Wilson's War, directed by
Mike Nichols and written by Aaron
Sorkin (The West Wing), is based on
the real-life story
of Wilson, a hard-
drinking Texas
congressman who
funneled money to
the Islamic rebels
who were fight-
ing the Soviets
un "rou'' b
in Afghanistan
in 1979. Wilson
recruits assistants – including
Israelis who modify and manufac-
ture Soviet weapons to maintain
the illusion of American neutrality
– in a lot of odd places. The huge
cast, led by Tom Hanks and Julia
Roberts, includes Shiri Appleby and
Persian-Jewish actor Shaun Toub
(Crash) playing a Middle Eastern
Muslim named Hassan.
Sweeney Todd, the Broadway
musical hit by Stephen Sondheim,
finally comes to the big screen.
Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) has a
supporting role in this tale about
the "Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

of the film. In the novel, his father was a
rabbi and wanted Leonard to follow in his
footsteps, and he broke his father's heart
by becoming a writer. It's a different kind
of spiritual path. It's spirituality through
Starting Out in the Evening is by turns
contemplative and messy as it depicts the
collision between Schiller's rarefied pur-
suit of measured literary fiction and the
emotionality of real life.
Familial messiness defined Wagner's
debut, The Talent Given Us, a semi-autobi-
ographical, button-pushing film in which
he cast his parents and sisters.
Wagner is a devotee of the "sacred writ-
ing room:' a trait he shares with Leonard
Schiller. But he's come to adopt a Zen
attitude toward the collaborative nature of
making movies.
"There's a great deal of letting go when
you get to the filmmaking process, and
one of the things you let go of is satisfac-
tion," he confides. "The film (which took
18 days to film on a very small budget
in New York City) takes on a life of its

Hot Dates

JDate, the big Jewish dating ser-
vice, has hit on a clever way to get
publicity: It asked its members to
pick their favorite Jewish celebrity
of 2007 and made a donation to the
winner's favorite charity, thus assur-
ing a quote from the winner.
This year's winner is Larry David,
60, who was cited for bringing
Jewish humor into his TV show Curb
Your Enthusiasm. David told JDate
that he would accept the honor on
"the condition that I don't have to
go out on a date."
Maybe David is
"date shy" because
his wife, Laurie
David, divorced
him earlier this
year after leaving
him for the family
Larry David
CNBC talk
show host Donny
Deutsch, 50, finished high up among
the faves. He did a nice job of civilly
tongue-lashing Ann Coulter when
she recently told him on The Big
Idea with Donny Deutsch that Jews
"were unfinished Christians." I i

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