The Night Listener
Gabriel Noone (Robin Williams) is the host of "Noone at Night," a Gene Shepherd-type late-night radio show supposedly carried on stations across the country. He tells long, personal stories of the kind that the rest of us would often chew over the next morning. But he and his long-time boyfriend Jess (Bobby Cannevale) have just broken up, and Gabriel needs time for himself, away from the show.
Then he hears about a manuscript by a 14-year-old Wisconsin boy, Pete Logand (Rory Culkin), telling the story of how he was horribly abused by his parents from the age of eight, and now has AIDS. He's been adopted by a blind social worker, Donna Logand (Toni Collette), and he's a faithful listener to Gabriel's broadcasts. Naturally Gabriel is touched, and wants to reach out to him. But things don't quite add up; is this boy for real? That is the question of the film.
The story is based on something that actually happened to Armistead Maupin, the San Francisco raconteur, who turned it into a novel and has collaborated on the screenplay as well. Directed by Patrick Stettner and shot by the brilliant cinematographer Lisa Rinzler, the film tries to make up with mood and lighting for some grating deficiencies in plot and character, particularly that of Ms. Collette, who's been given a set of misaligned teeth that obviously don't sit well in her mouth, and who is so bizarre in her actions it's a wonder any social-service agency would have hired her. On the other hand, Mr. Williams, whose last film performances have been cringe-inducing, gives a lovely and understated performance that is thoughtful and free of mannerisms.
The power of a genre such as this lies in its ability to keep us guessing; we must ask ourselves what is real and what is not. And despite the best efforts of Mr. Williams, the trouble with "The Night Listener" is that we've stopped caring long before the end.