The magic that can happen when people listen to each other gives the film Like Sunday, Like Rain a contagious hope that, no matter the challenge, people can better work through issues when they open themselves to others. This look at lost souls in New York City carefully avoids the temptation to make its simple story artificially complex as writer/director Frank Whaley naturally captures the nuance of connection. He will be on hand for a conversation at the Ridgefield Playhouse following a showing of the film on Sept. 13.

“I started writing the film in 2008 because I was always interested in characters who drift and a childhood that is lost,” Whaley says. “It came to me that I wanted this to be a New York City story where it’s so easy for people to drift in and out of each other’s lives.”

Reggie is a 12-year-old boy with a gift for music, a knack for negotiation and a preference for solitude. That’s easy to accomplish in his oversized house in Manhattan with too much space for its residents. Reggie’s mother, played with relish by Debra Messing, loves the luxuries that affluence brings. But her riches define a cadence of disconnection that leaves Reggie alone with his cello, books and mysteries. When a lost soul name Eleanor wanders into his life, Whaley explores how unlikely connections can lead to meaningful friendships.

“I was, from the start, fascinated with these two characters, and how the film reveals their routines that, while very different in their surroundings, are actually quite similar,” Whaley says. “I wanted to see what would happen if they would randomly meet. And that’s what happens.”

Whaley reveals a lot about his characters by saying very little. He lets their faces tell many stories, including when Eleanor first hears Reggie’s music, how they enjoy watching a movie together, and what support he offers when she visits her ailing father out of town. Writer/director Whaley — well remembered as an actor in Pulp Fiction and Swim With the Sharks — brings an actor’s sensibility to his work behind the screen. He so fully trusts his performers to bring the characters to life that he doesn’t overburden them with too much to say. He simply lets them live.

“We shot the film in 19 days,” Whaley says, “on a shoestring budget. The actors guided each other through the shoot and it was quite something to see how Julian Shatkin (as Reggie) and Leighton Meester (as Eleanor) would take care of each other. They brought the relationship in the script to life by reaching beyond the words on the page. The minute they met they were compatible. They made the chemistry happen.”

That such a quiet film could find it to the screen says as much for Whaley’s perseverance as the complexities of today’s movie business. While technology makes it easier for films to be made, the economics make it more difficult for them to be seen. Filmmakers like Whaley depend on film festivals and special events, such as the showing in Ridgefield, to give a movie the chance to be seen beyond any theatrical release it may experience.

“I had few expectations for the film despite how much I enjoyed making it. You just don’t know. I hope, when people see the film, they will be inspired with a belief that life changing moments can happen anytime and from anywhere. Even movies. And that they feel they have spent time with some interesting people.”

Thanks to Whaley’s tenacity, Like Sunday, Like Rain, moves with its heart, impresses with its scope, and entertains with its humanity. The film reminds us that listening to others is the first step to living a less isolated life. Even in a place with as many people as New York City.

Like Sunday, Like Rain runs 104 minutes. It is Rated R for language. It is showing Sunday, September 13, at 7:30 p.m., at the Ridgefield Playhouse. Following the film, Ira Joe Fisher will lead a question-and-answer conversation with writer/director Frank Whaley. Go to ridgefieldplayhouse.org for details and tickets.

Let’s Talk Movies

by Mark Schumann, The Reel Dad

Frank Whaley’s moving Like Sunday, Like Rain brings to mind other stories about lonely people that make it to the screen.

If you have never seen these films, or it has been a few years, take the time to take a look.

All is Lost

The film begins with that distinctive, unassuming voice that has filled movie theaters for almost 50 years. His words, of a man looking for redemption and asking his family for forgiveness, strike a chord with anyone who travels many miles. Little do we realize, as the film opens, that we will only hear this character speak a handful of words, and we will not have to endure predictable flashbacks to fill the spaces of the character’s backstory. Instead Robert Redford, listed as “our man” in the credits, fills the film by himself, without dialogue, reminding us this great actor has more superlative performances yet to give.

(1984, 124 minutes, Rated R.)

Ordinary People

Years ago, Robert Redford won an Oscar for directing this look at people who disconnect because they forget to listen. Timothy Hutton was named Best Supporting Actor for portraying a lonely high school student trying to recover from the shock and guilt surrounding his brother’s accidental death. His parents don’t help. Redford reveals a surprising dark side of Mary Tyler Moore as the frozen mother while casting Donald Sutherland as a remote man who loses the ability to articulate his emotions. Watching this movie reminds us how subtle and substantive Redford can be behind and in front of the camera.

(1984, 124 minutes, Rated R.)

Taxi Driver

Today some people may remember this film for its role to inspire a young man to shoot a President to impress a movie star. When you re-watch this piercing tale of disconnection, rage and misunderstanding in New York City, look into Robert DeNiro’s eyes as he essays the role of an ex-marine who becomes obsessed with a young woman played by Jodie Foster. Director Martin Scorcese reveals an underbelly of Manhattan that adds texture to the story and probably frightened tourists at the time. And the film’s central theme – of the desperation that loneliness can bring – could be an issue in any location.

(1976, 113 minutes, Rated R.)

Gravity

As a woman lost in space, in a movie version of space that actually feels like space, Sandra Bullock uses every part of her credible persona to make us believe she wants to return to earth. While some of Bullock’s dialogue would make Robert Redford cringe, she has an uncanny ability to make any moment plausible, even when she talks to herself in the middle of nowhere. All we need to see is the fear in her eyes to grasp the impact of the story. Bullock is a strong enough actress, with the capacity to surprise and move at any turn, that she doesn’t need any dialogue to let us know where she is and where she wants to be.

(2013, 91 minutes, Rated PG-13.)

Leaving Las Vegas

Nicholas Cage won an Oscar, and Elizabeth Shue was nominated, for their complex creations of two lonely people who try overcome the impact of alcohol and isolation. While Cage has the showier role – as a man who loses every connection to friends, family and work – Shue steals the film as a soft-spoken lady who reveals more heart than her situation demands. She makes us believe that people can change in a story so somber and sad that its few moments of hope are as welcome as sunshine on a cloudy day.

(1995, 111 minutes, Rated R.)

Cast Away

Years before Bullock went to space and Redford went to sea, Tom Hanks scored a personal triumph (and nabbed an Oscar nomination) for playing a FedEx man who finds himself all alone on an island after a plane crash. As long as Robert Zemeckis keeps his camera on Hanks on the island, the film works, as Hanks brings the candor to make the exaggerated situation as plausible as possible. But when he veers off course, with nominal costar Helen Hunt, the film loses its sense of purpose and wonder. Watch the film for the solo scenes where Hanks soars.

(2000, 143 minutes, Rated PG-13.)

Yes, the movies can make loneliness feel real. Even when watching a movie with others.

See you at the movies.