How many people are you really intimate with? A new survey shows that most people's circle of confidants is, on average, about one person less now than it used to be. The percentage of people who say they have no one to confide in has reached about 25%. Sociologists call this circle your "discussion network" — those you can reach out to and depend on in times when you need help or want to share a secret. These results come from a General Social Survey, which has been conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago since 1972. Americans, in other words, are more alone than ever. A poignant new film written and directed by James Ponsoldt zeroes in on this phenomenon with startling emotional clout.

Ray (Nick Nolte) is a 57 year old high school umpire who lives by himself with his sadsack bulldog who likes beer as much as he does. He has no friends and wins a lot of enemies for the way he calls baseball games. Sometimes there is so much enmity against him that he has to wear sunglasses as he skulks around town. When his house is vandalized by three boys, he catches one of them and is surprised to discover he is Dave (Trevor Morgan), a high school pitcher whose team recently lost. Instead of calling the police, he decides to have the boy clean up his yard, which is strewn with garbage, graffiti, and toilet paper. Then Ray comes up with a way for Dave to pay him back for the $200 worth of damage to his car. All the teenager has to do is accompany him to his 40th high school reunion and pretend that he is Ray's son.

In this coming-of-age story, we see how Dave is quite isolated himself. Ever since his mother walked out the door two years ago, his father (Timothy Hutton), a photographer, has been in a funk and pretty much unavailable to his children. Ray's younger sister (Sonia Feigelson) has no one to talk to about school or her own fears about singing in front of her classmates for an assignment. Although Dave knows that Ray has the reputation of being a crazy old man, at least he tries to share his feelings of love and pain. At one point, he tells the boy that he feels miserable and lonely.

Ray takes Dave fishing and makes it clear that if he can learn to be patient in this way, the lessons will serve him well in other endeavors as well. At a baseball game, Dave meets a pretty single mom (Rosemarie De Witt) who played baseball years ago and knows Ray. The teenager gets a further glimpse into his new friend's life when they visit Ray's Alzheimer's stricken father (Michael Higgins).

Off the Black is carried into our hearts by a quirky and endearing performance by Nick Nolte who excels in playing pariahs on the outer fringes of society. Ray realizes how lonely he is and takes some action to rectify it: he opens his heart to another human being. Trevor Morgan does a fine job conveying an adolescent's frustrations with his family life. The fact that these two can reach across the generations is one of the best things about the movie. Both learn something new at the reunion party. Loneliness for some lucky ones is a passage into a new land of possibilities once we sense the ultimate spiritual importance of being present and listening in our relationships.