Saturday, January 13, 2007

 

Blurring the lines

By Edward Copeland
I didn't pay much attention to The Night Listener when it originally was released last year and, even though I thought the film essentially was a bore, it did encourage me to do some research before I wrote about it. It said it was based on a novel by Armistead Maupin, whom Robin Williams' character of Gabriel seemed obviously patterned after, but it also alluded to it being based on real-life events.


Once I searched around, I learned about the controversy relating to the story that hit about the same time as the James Frey A Million Little Pieces nonsense. However, I'll leave those thoughts aside and just focus on the film, in case anyone wants to check it out. If they do, there is one main reason: another great performance by Toni Collette.

This odd little film (and a short one — only 80 minutes) tells the story of Gabriel, a gay radio host and author who develops on over-the-phone friendship with an AIDS-stricken teen (Rory Culkin) who was the victim of abuse and is cared for by Donna (Collette).

One day when Gabriel has both of them talking on a speaker phone, his former lover (Bobby Cannavale) remarks that both voices sound similar, putting the idea in Gabriel's head that perhaps he's the victim of a fraud. Soon, Gabriel treks to Wisconsin in search of the sick boy and Donna, though he only finds Donna who turns out to be a blind, mentally unstable woman.

While director Patrick Stettner, who co-wrote the screenplay with Maupin and Terry Anderson, does create some genuinely creepy moods, the film as a whole never bubbles to a fizz except when Collette is on screen. Williams is fine in subdued mode and Cannavale and Sandra Oh also provide some solid support.

In the end, The Night Listener seems undercooked, which may be the reason for the short running time and single scene appearance by John Cullum as Gabriel's father, but Collette is great and really makes sitting through it all seem worthwhile.


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