Rose Styron may not be as well known as her late husband, William Styron, the celebrated author of such novels as “The Confessions of Nat Turner” and “Sophie’s Choice.” But with James Lapine’s lovely film “In the Company of Rose,” the buoyant and radiant poet, journalist and human rights activist, now 95, finally receives a much-deserved documentary close-up.

Lapine, the three-time Tony Award-winning librettist (“Into the Woods,” “Falsettos,” “Passion”), as well as an acclaimed film and stage director, playwright and screenwriter, shot a series of casual conversations between 2014 and 2019 with Rose, a friend and fellow Martha’s Vineyard denizen. (She’s a year-round resident; Lapine summers there.) With the help of editor Miky Wolf, he whittled down 22 hours of chat footage, then added a wealth of archival clips and photos — much of it from the Styron family’s personal collection — along with gentle bits of animation. The result is a compact and captivating look at an intriguing, at times high-flying, well-lived life.

Lapine impresses as a relaxed and instinctive interviewer, often seen in effective split-screen shots with Styron. She proves a warm, accessible subject as she talks about her affluent Maryland youth and rigid mother, college and graduate school years, romantic early days living in Italy with William, their subsequent 53-year marriage and four children, and her four published books of poetry. For decades, she also widely traveled the globe for both her journalism work and on behalf of Amnesty International USA, of which she is a founding member.

Director James Lapine and poet Rose Styron in the documentary “In the Company of Rose.”

(Greenwich Entertainment)

Rose Styron doesn’t come off as a name dropper but rather a friend and vital participant as she recounts her and William’s encounters over the years with such luminaries as President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Truman Capote, Philip Roth, Arthur Miller, James Baldwin and Jerzy Kosinski. And she has plenty of evocative snapshots to back up these enjoyable tales.

Her modest account of a single, crucial contribution she made to the writing of “Sophie’s Choice” is also enlightening.

Not surprisingly, Styron’s candid, detailed recollections of life with her brilliant if often remote and troubled husband provide some of the movie’s more compelling moments. Her offhand mention of their marital infidelities — William’s being more involved than hers — is an eye-opener. Styron is also upfront about her husband’s longtime alcoholism. But it’s her sad and painful memories of his crippling bouts of depression, suicidal thoughts and electroshock therapy that paint a most vivid picture of the author’s later life — and her and their children’s place within it. (He died of pneumonia in 2006 at age 81.)

It’s easy to see what drew Lapine to Styron as a comrade and why he felt so moved to document their discussions, even if he admittedly didn’t start with a particularly clear structure or direction.

Styron has a long history of making others feel special, and it’s invigorating to watch someone so seemingly comfortable in her own skin. You want to hang out with her for real.

We also get to know Lapine a bit as he opens up in frank and pertinent ways while speaking with Styron. In relating, for example, how he — an essentially shy person who was a photographer before he started working in theater — finds solace hiding behind a camera, he brings an instant humanity to his humble presence. Unlike some documentary interviewers, Lapine never gets in the way of his subject but rather enhances the overall narrative.

Rose Styron makes for excellent company, indeed. And if this engaging film whets your appetite for an even more encompassing look at this inspiring woman, her recently released memoir, “Beyond This Harbor: Adventurous Tales of the Heart,may be just the thing.

‘In the Company of Rose’

Not rated
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.
Playing: Starts June 30, Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles; also available on VOD

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