Armistad Maupin (Tales of the City) didn’t trust his own story in his adaptation of his novel inspired by something that happened to him. But what could have been a thoughtful psychological drama raising issues of identity and trust and the meaning of the stories we tell deteriorates into distracting melodrama. We spend too much time worrying about whether the main character will be arrested for breaking and entering and not enough understanding what is motivating him to want to.
Gabriel Noone (Robin Williams) mines his life for stories that he tells on the radio. He is feeling very vulnerable because the man he loves, Jess (Bobby Cannavale), has moved out. When his friend Ashe (Joe Morton) asks him to read a manuscript by Pete (Rory Culkin), a 14 year old boy who had been horribly abused by his parents, Noone is touched. He calls the boy, who is sick with AIDS and being cared for by Donna (Toni Collette), the social worker who adopted him. Gabriel becomes very devoted to Pete. But something does not seem right and Gabriel begins to wonder if Pete and Donna are telling the truth, if Pete even exists at all.
He flies out to see if he can find out the truth. This section of the film feels choppy and incomplete. The real life Maupin was mining may not have provided him with any clear answers. Movies don’t need clear answers; indeed, trying to tie things up too neatly with an “aha” moment is a common mistake. But movies do need answers that meet some standard of psychological validity and this movie is not murky; it’s flimsy.
Parents should know that this movie has explict references and some graphic images depicting the most severe child molestation, abuse, and pornography. There is some strong language, alcohol drinking, and drug references. There are tense and unhappy confrontations and characters are in some peril. A theme of the movie is betrayal, which may disturb some viewers. A strength of the movie is its positive portrayal of gay characters.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Noone wanted to believe Pete? How did what was going on between Noone and Jsss make Noone more vulnerable? What does Armistad Maupin (who wrote the book and movie baased on his own experiences) think about Donna? How can you tell? Families might want to learn more about the real story that inspired the book and movie and about similar literary hoaxes like James Frey’s highly embellished “autobiography” and the books by “J.T. Leroy”, who never really existed.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Williams’ performances in Insomnia and One Hour Photo as well as his Oscar-winning performance in Good Will Hunting (all with mature material).