The Night Listener

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
The Night Listener Movie Poster Image
Complex mystery/thriller is best for adults.
  • R
  • 2006
  • 82 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Writer questions his own use of other people's lives; character appears to lie about the existence of a little boy.

Violence

During escape from authorities, Gabriel hurts his leg in a stairwell; during struggle, woman pulls man into street with her, hoping both will be hit by truck.

Sex

Brief, subjective shots from child's POV of sexual abuse in scary basement; gay couple discusses relationship using sexual and pejorative slang ("fag," "d--k-smoker"); couple of shots of a Playboy magazine.

Language

Frequent uses of f-word, "s--t," "a--hole," slang for genitals and sex acts.

Consumerism

Background logo (Coca-Cola).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking (beer and liquor, once to drunken, self-pitying state); ashtray full of cigarettes; Gabriel smokes cigarette.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the movie is not for kids. It alludes to a child's sexual abuse in language and impressionistic, somewhat hectic visuals. Characters talk explicitly about sex (specifically, gay sexual activity and desire). An unhappy writer misses his boyfriend, then develops a friendship with a boy he never meets. Characters lie to one another, sometimes maliciously, sometimes out of seeming illness. A couple of arguments end in minor violence (pushing and shoving). Characters are depressed, physically ill, and mean to one another. Characters smoke cigarettes and drink.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bynathaniel2002 April 9, 2008
Parent of a 1 year old Written byGambleFam April 9, 2008

Awful movie!

I thought this movie was awful from the start! The language was SO BAD, I turned it off 10 minutes into it! The “F” word was dropped about 12 times... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byrylan93625 April 9, 2008

What's the story?

Narrated by famous writer Gabriel (Robin Williams), THE NIGHT LISTENER opens on his late-night radio talk show, as he promises to "lay out the events exactly as I remember them." As he comes to question his memories, he also wonders about his motives for telling stories. When Gabriel's partner Jess (Bobby Cannavale) leaves him, he finds solace of sorts in a friendship with 14-year-old Pete. At first they connect through the boy's manuscript, which he has submitted to Gabriel's publisher friend Ashe (Joe Morton), a story focused on his sexual abuse by adults. Then they come to appreciate their shared loneliness and sense of humor. When Gabriel learns that Pete is also terminally ill, he wants to help, but the boy's adoptive guardian, a social worker named Donna (Toni Collette), seems inclined to keep them apart. When Jess suggests that Pete and Donna sound like the same person over the phone, Gabriel begins to worry he's been had, that the boy doesn't exist. At this point he launches into an elaborate effort to track him down.

Is it any good?

Initially clever and provocative, The Night Listener ends up seeming clumsy. A mystery story based on an Armistad Maupin novel, it's "inspired by true events," which means it's twice derived, based on a fictionalization of Maupin's own experiences. This makes for an intriguing focus on the artist's practice, as he makes up and also uses the lives of others; the film asks when this process turns selfish, and perhaps more importantly, self-deluding.

Tapping into recent public outrages over writers who lie (for instance, J.T. LeRoy and James Frey), the film's indictments are drearily unsubtle. Though the wonderful Sandra Oh, as Gabriel's accountant, provides welcome wit and level-headedness amid the hubbub, she's not on-screen nearly enough. She makes you realize that The Night Listener could have been sharper, and less dreary.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about artistic processes. How does Gabriel use his experiences to write his stories? How is his process different from or like Donna's lying? How do both characters use someone else's misfortune (illness, abuse) to gain attention for themselves? How can writing (and reading) also be a healthy, community-building process?

Movie details

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