As with last year’s Venus, Starting Out in the Evening stars a venerable actor in a May-December romance, though its concerns are less the nature of sexual hunger than the possibility of reinvention and the importance of seizing the moment. New York novelist Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella), his four novels long since out of print, finds his decade-long effort to complete his next book interrupted by Heather (Lauren Ambrose), an admiring grad student who wants to write her master’s thesis on his work. Adapted from Brian Morton’s novel, Andrew Wagner’s film depicts Leonard’s reaction to this lively, fiercely intelligent female presence – who concludes their first meeting by passionately kissing his hand, to which he responds by placing his palm over her adoring eyes – as a gradual thawing out, with hesitancy giving way first to friendliness, and then to something more romantic. This set-up has all the hallmarks of twilight-drenched somber melodrama, but Starting Out in the Evening is shrewder than it initially lets on, primarily because it refuses to schematically pigeonhole its characters, such as Leonard’s daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor), whose biological clock is ticking loudly – as her father, a kindred opportunity waster, likes to remind her – and yet who is undeniably drawn to ex-boyfriend Casey (Adrian Lester), who doesn’t want children. Heather’s project is driven by self-interest, reverence, and genuine affection, and Leonard’s fascination with Heather is similarly comprised of mixed feelings, including pride, selfishness, loneliness and amorous longing. Wagner’s quietly reserved direction suitably mirrors Leonard’s demeanor, but it also occasionally veers into literary pretentiousness, and Leonard and Heather’s physical intimacy is – regardless of its chaste nature – never completely convincing. These miscues, however, are mostly overshadowed by Langella and Ambrose, the former putting on a masterful display of internalized confusion and the latter radiating sharp-witted, live-wire brashness. Their mutating rapport is multifaceted, though more responsible for the film’s mature portrait of professional and personal desires is its acute acknowledgment that a life’s work – or, even, a single decision – is often the byproduct of myriad complex forces, and not merely reducible to easy, undemanding cause-effect analysis.