The Night Listener

Events fictionalized in Armistead Maupin's novel The Night Listener were based on weird, actual events that happened to Maupin.  In the 1990s, Maupin befriended a young boy over the telephone who was near death.  After a long relationship, Maupin and others began to doubt the boy's existence, noticing that the boy sounded much like his mother.  Worse, nobody connected with the story ever met the boy; the only contact anybody ever had was over the phone.  Maupin used this concept in his novel, adapted by film by himself, director Patrick Stettner (The Business of Strangers), and Terry Anderson.

The mood is effectively creepy, and often, the protagonist, Gabriel Noone (Robin Williams, RV, Robots) wrestles with whether he believes the existence of this mystery boy.  Noone is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, famous for his fiction, and many in the gay community view Noone as a role model who has done a lot for them. His relationship with his boyfriend Jess (Bobby Canavale, Happy Endings, Shall We Dance) is on the rocks because of his penchant for fictionalizing it for his viewers.   This is affecting him professionally, he cannot come up with anything new for his show.

Noone is given a book by Pete Logand (Rory Culkin, Down in the Valley, The Chumscrubber), a young boy who was molested as a child.  He was adopted by Donna Logand (Toni Collette, Little Miss Sunshine, In Her Shoes), who moved him to Wisconsin to tend for him.  Pete is dying, and is constantly in and out of the hospital.  Noone is amazed and inspired that Pete was able to survive such trauma, and the two begin speaking often.  Pete is exactly what Noone needs right now, Noone is shocked when people around him begin to question Pete's existence.  Nobody has ever seen Pete, and the voice is suspicious.  Noone travels to rural Wisconsin to try to ascertain the truth, which leads to even more questions.

Anybody looking for answers will probably go away frustrated.  The Night Listener is not about finding the answers (in real life, the true existence of the boy is still unclear), but about how this mystery affects Noone.  Stettner takes his time in building tension.  Some may think he takes too much time.  It works for a bit, before one realizes that not much is happening for most of the movie, capped off by a rushed finale.  Williams is better than he typically is, only because he is not jumping around like an idiot.  However, as Noone, he is a little too subdued at times.  His actions in finding the truth seem a bit strange, and don't quite seem to make sense.  Worse is Stettner's mention of voice printing as a way to determine whether two voices are the same.  He mentions it, then never follows up.  There isn't that much suspense - it's pretty obvious from the beginning and the premise that Pete is not real; most of the eeriness comes from dealing with Donna.  Stettner uses Culkin more as a representation of somebody Noone thinks he is speaking with - all he has is a picture.  The Night Listener has a good run, but loses steam as it nears its conclusion.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 31 minutes, Rated R for language and some disquieting sexual content.

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