The Night Listener is an intriguing movie. Robin Williams plays Gabriel Noone, a radio storyteller who guides the audience into the movie. The material for his radio show, Noone at Night, is pieces of his own life, but improved and embellished. A story within a story, Gabriel tells of a time in his life when he went through emotional upheaval in strange circumstances.
This is an emotional movie. While there are aspects throughout that denote a darker, scarier theme, those stay buried in Gabriel’s own mind, only brought up through the Peter Nashel’s musical score, which enhances the tension between the characters. Gabriel and his partner Jess, played by Bobby Cannavale, split up, leaving Gabriel very much alone as Jess explores what is left of his youth in New York City. To distract him, Gabriel’s friend Ashe gives him a book written by Pete, a 14-year old boy who had been molested throughout his youth by his parents, and is dying of AIDS. Pete is a devoted fan of Gabriel’s radio show, and the two strike up an unlikely friendship over the phone. Perhaps filling the void left by Jess, Gabriel looks forward to the conversations until he becomes suspicious of the similarities between Pete’s voice, and the voice of his guardian Donna. As he looks deeper into the story, Gabriel knows that it doesn’t make sense, but his desire for friendship is stronger. He goes to Wisconsin to find Pete and help him in person.
Up until this point, the audience had been viewing Pete, played by Rory Culkin, in his bedroom and hospital room. His guardian Donna, played by Toni Collette, had been shown as a beautiful if not worried woman with long red hair and a clean, cared for home. The contrast of what Gabriel finds upon his visit is striking, and shows how much Gabriel does turn his life into a story to deal with it. Donna is a blind, unkempt woman who does not want Gabriel to meet Pete. At this mid-point of the story, the movie changed unexpectedly. Instead of Pete being locked away or in a hospital, Gabriel finds himself in the middle of a twisted woman’s life. Not so much split personality as Donna is completely delusional, it becomes hard to watch Gabriel lose the boy he thought he had befriended, and also become unhinged himself.
Williams and Collette’s chemistry is awkward and unnerving. Exactly what it should be given these characters. The two actors fall into the roles completely, never leaving their characters for a minute. While the ending of the movie was unsatisfying because it left much of Gabriel undiscovered, it fit. Gabriel’s character was much like Donna’s in that they both lied to themselves to get through life.
The Night Listener is based on the book by Armistead Maupin.
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