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The Night Listener (2006)

PostPosted: Thu Sep 21, 2006 4:47 pm
by justindeimen

Courtesy of

The Night Listener finds itself being thrown to the wolves by a limp-wristed handling of its material (co-writer, Armistead Maupins best-selling novel) and dismal attempt to be far more intriguing than it actually is. Its a cautionary tale of lies and the stubborn urge to trust anyone that understands our insecurities. Robin Williams dons his paranoid, camp-free facade seen in One Hour Photo and Insomnia to a credible extent. Hes Gabriel Noone (No-one?), a gay raconteur for a NPR (National Public Radio) programme for the citys culture scene. As most storytellers do, he embellishes more than few details of his life. Not surprising, because Gabriel isnt the most interesting person as he finds an outlook for stories through the lives of those around him.

Reeling from the break-up with his partner, Jess (Bobby Cannavale), Gabriel goes into a deep funk only to be brought out of it by a deeply moving manuscript detailing the life of a young boy, Pete whos on deaths door as he loses his battle with AIDS after a traumatic life with parents that sexually abused and tormented him. Gabriels relationship with his young fan grows as they have detailed telephone conversations of their lives, and about the lives of those around them. In Petes case, his adoptive parent, Donna (Toni Collette) starts to create deep wells of suspicions that Gabriel just cant shake off.

Its message is clear and very apt in our current culture of communication. We talk to people, especially those who we put a lot of stock into through a barrier of technology like telephones, instant messaging and e-mail. Do we still take things with a pinch of salt, or are our inhibitions thoroughly enamoured by our ability to hear what wed like to listen to? Being inspired by true events from Maupins novel, it is bolstered by the recent scandal involving James Frey and his public roasting by Oprah Winfrey about his autobiography on drug rehabilitation being based primarily on fiction.

Unfortunately, the film suffers from its distinct measure of restraint. It drifts into an insignificant situational conundrum with no stakes involved while being a one-note malady that doesnt compel or deserve its actors raw emotional appeals for concern. While building on its baleful subject matter of HIV, sexual abuse and isolation, it dithers on its sombre, anti-climactic tone while depending unwisely on its underwhelming key characters in Gabriel and Donna. Not taking away anything from the performances, these characters did not hold up the twin castles of paranoia and dysfunction. But to its credit, its a well-paced story clocking in at about an hour and a half that does connect most of its dots. Its just not compelling enough to warrant more interest.

In a standout performance but by all means not an outstanding one, Collette gives a strange and unnerving look at hidden questions and readily available answers that begs more. While a long way from Williams melancholic radio host that lives by explicating, and his indelibly wrought smile of malcontent, Collette says much more than him by not saying and not showing anything at all. With Little Miss Sunshine opening in the same week, theres plenty of her to go around. Look for Sandra Oh in unfortunately yet another small and inconsequential role, just as in Hard Candy.

"Inspires a feeling of indifference in a token and otherwise unsatisfying mystery"