October 28, 2010

Justify My Netflix: The Night Listener

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

The Night Listener

Today's movie: The Night Listener, (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because it was literally on television at some random point last weekend when I had nothing else to do, so watched it despite not knowing anything about it.

The reality: Wow! Well, I gotta say, I sure feel like a schmuck now -- because this turns out to be no less than an adaptation of an autobiographical novel by Armistead Maupin that I had no idea even existed, in which he (and a bunch of his publishing buddies) were convinced in the early '90s to endorse and even kind of fall in love with what seemed like a prodigious teenage writer and former abuse victim named Tony Johnson, just to eventually learn that the whole thing was an ultra-elaborate hoax by the mentally disturbed Vicki Johnson, who had been acting as Johnson's "social worker." (And yes, if this sounds an awful lot like the JT LeRoy scam from later that decade, that's no coincidence, in that Maupin claims that it was both events that influenced his eventual novel.)

It's a fascinating story, one in which Maupin never shies away from his own culpability -- how Johnson turned out to suffer from a rare mental disorder that made her compulsively seek sympathy from others, even to the point of making up an entire fictional abused child to receive pity by proxy, how this coincided with Maupin going through a bad breakup and desperately needing something in his own life to believe in, how the lie was able to feed on itself merely by first convincing a few high-profile people to believe it, which then convinced everyone else to on the strength of those original people's say-so, escalating to the point where "Tony"s fake memoir was actually published without anyone involved ever technically meeting him. And granted, a number of CCLaP's readers over at Facebook have mentioned that the novel is clearly better than the movie, but I still didn't find the film that bad at all, although perhaps it was the shock of the unexpected that partly fueled that. In any case, the story comes recommended today no matter which medium you use to read/watch it, an intellectual hoax turned into a genre-style thriller that is surprisingly effective in its chills and scares.

Strangest piece of trivia: Maupin's real-life husband has a cameo in the movie, playing a friend of the main character's ex named Lucian but who the Maupin stand-in is always calling "Lucifer."

Worth your time? Yes

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:47 AM, October 28, 2010. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |