Sundance Review: "Starting Out in the Evening" Is Funny; "Chapter 27" Needs to Lose Weight; "Once" Has Charms

by | January 26, 2007 | Comments

Senh caught the screenings of three films making their stop at the Sundance Film Festival this week: a funny and well-acted drama about relationships and the creative process; a sluggish drama starring a portly and sweat-drenched Jared Leto; and a movie that may be the template for the modern musical. Read on for his reviews.

"Starting Out in the Evening" is often funny and well-written, but it loses its way toward the end. The drama centers on Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella), a washed-up, once renowned literary writer who’s trying to recapture his past glory by writing one last novel, which he’s been working on for the past ten years. At 70, his deteriorating health can keep him from completing his novel. Heather (Lauren Ambrose), a graduate student who’s a fan of his past work, is infatuated with him and tries to bring him out of obscurity by making him the subject of her graduate thesis. The relationship eventually gets physical and, well, yucky — Leonard is almost three times older than Heather. The other major character in the film is Leonard’s daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor), an unmarried 40-year-old trying to impregnate herself with an ex-boyfriend who is clueless of her intentions. Most of the humor are derived from these awkward relationships. These three characters are at a crossroad in their lives. The acting by the three principles are generally good, especially Frank Langella. Because this is also a story about the writing process, there are lively debates between art versus commerce and discussions on the creative process. The relationships eventually get a little messy and one of the characters even disappear from the story for a little bit towards the end, but when the credits roll, all of the lose ends are tied up nicely.

In "Chapter 27," Jared Leto gained a lot of weight to play the sweat-covered Mark David Chapman, the mentally unstable fan who shot John Lennon on December 8, 1980. While Leto did a great job of gaining those extra pounds, his patterned speech could use a little more work. As a film about the moments leading to Chapman’s shooting of Lennon, it keeps the viewers at a distance. It’s always better to show than to tell, and the film breaks this cardinal rule with Chapman’s frequent narration. Towards the end, he even hears voices. Or is it his own narration? I’m not sure. The characters are so underdeveloped that it’s difficult to relate to any of them. Lindsay Lohan is in it, but her role is trivial, like many of the other supporting characters in the film. The pacing is slow as well.

"Once" is a charming romance, with music videos seamlessly integrated into the story. An Irish guy (Glen Hansard) who makes a living playing music in the streets of Dublin and fixing vacuum cleaners at his father’s shop meets a flower vendor (Markéta Irglová) who also happens to have a broken vacuum cleaner. Two eventually discover they have something in common — they both play a musical instrument and like to sing. They decided to form a band and make an album. The lyrics of the songs in the film move the story along. The music’s great. It helps that the two stars are actually great singers. This mix of film and music video is a unique representation of what a modern musical should look and sound like.

Check out our full Fundance at Sundance coverage.

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