‘The Listener’ Review: Tessa Thompson Anchors Steve Buscemi’s Sparse Study of a Crisis Hotline


Taking a breather from among the bodily demanding and generally villainous roles she’s performed of late within the likes of Marvel franchises and HBO’s Westworld, Tessa Thompson stars in The Listener as a extra unsung type of superhuman: a disaster hotline employee.

Perhaps seeing an opportunity to push to almost the restrict that outdated thespian saying — generally attributed to efficiency coach Stella Adler — that “acting is reacting,” this spare, low-tech work principally focuses on Thompson’s expressive face as she listens to requires assist from 10 very totally different folks in misery. The voice solid affords a mixture of well-known (Margaret Cho, Alia Shawkat, Rebecca Hall) and fewer well-known names, democratically allotted roughly the identical quantity of air time by the movie.

The Listener

The Bottom Line

Modest however considerate and well timed.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Venice Days)
Cast: Tessa Thompson, Logan Marshall-Green, Derek Cecil, Margaret Cho, Blu Del Barrio, Ricky Velez, Alia Shawkat, Jamie Hector, Casey Wilson, Bobby Soto, Rebecca Hall
Director: Steve Buscemi
Screenwriter: Alessandro Camon

1 hour 36 minutes

The Listener represents actor-director Steve Buscemi’s fifth directing credit score, the second after Lonesome Jim the place’s he’s stayed strictly behind the digital camera. (His final function was a equally lean two-hander, Interview from 2007, by which he additionally co-starred with Sienna Miller.) The complete collaboration feels undeniably stagey, but it surely’s nonetheless an empathic and incessantly transferring work that touches on the sheer quantity of callers that employees like Thompson’s character, usually unpaid volunteers, should cope with day by day. Meanwhile, with so many individuals within the U.S. unable to afford medical or therapeutic assist due to the chaos and forms of the American well being care system, the speed of deaths of despair from suicide and drug and alcohol abuse continues to rise in lots of demographics, particularly amongst communities of colour.

The latest COVID pandemic, alluded to briefly in Alessandro Camon’s script, could also be partly in charge for that mortality rise given the best way many individuals have been remoted throughout lockdown. But because the callers right here illustrate, there’s greater than sufficient common, non-COVID-induced psychological sickness, abusive relationships and loneliness to maintain hotline employees like Thompson’s “Beth” (as with lots of the callers, that’s not her actual title) busy by means of her night time shift.  

Some of the callers simply wish to speak to somebody compassionate as they navigate difficulties, akin to ex-convict Michael (Logan Marshall Green), who mentions that the final time he wore a bandana throughout his face in a retailer he acquired arrested, for armed theft. He seems to be one of many sweeter, extra secure males Beth offers with, given among the others sound deeply troubled, akin to “incel” in coaching Ellis (Ricky Velez), who seethes with hatred of girls, and Ray (Jamie Hector), a veteran coping with PTSD who recounts traumatic conflict tales that lead him to drink.

The feminine callers are not any much less distraught, though it makes psychological sense that some are dealing much less with their very own disabilities or private demons than the stresses of caring for others, like Corinne (Cho), the mother or father of a daughter with particular wants, who feels perpetually “a day late and a dollar short.” A dialog with Jinx (Blue Del Barrio), a teenage runaway being pressured by her boyfriend to start out turning methods to pay for his or her drug habits, has a extra didactic, culled-from-police-reports ring to it.

The one Beth appears to connect with finest is fast-talking Sharon (Shawkat), an articulate girl with extreme psychiatric points whom Beth tries to information towards discovering an outlet for her ache in writing. Sharon calls again with a poem on the finish, providing a considerably artificially devised however soothing ray of hope.

The most attention-grabbing, and longest, dialog Beth has is with English-accented Laura (Hall), a clearly extremely educated girl who virtually dares Beth to provide you with a persuasive argument as to why she shouldn’t kill herself. The dialogue between them opens up the phrases of reference to embody moral philosophy, faith, Beth’s personal private story and the explanations she turned a helpline employee, which she breaks protocol to share with Laura. Hall’s prowess as a vocal performer places imaginary flesh on the disembodied voice we hear, and Thompson, who starred in Hall’s personal directorial debut Passing, matches her observe for observe.

While the fabric might maybe have labored simply as simply as a podcast or different auditory efficiency, Buscemi, cinematographer Anka Malatynska, editor Kate Williams and the design staff collaborate successfully to keep up visible curiosity all through with cutaways from Beth’s face to the tchotchkes on her cabinets, her cute fluffy canine and the smooth furnishings in her modest Los Angeles bungalow. We, like sufferers visiting a therapist at her dwelling, are left to work out on our personal what sort of individual Beth is by the issues round her and the best way she talks and reacts, however ultimately that’s all a form of projection. What’s actually necessary is the work of speaking issues by means of, a human want that too usually goes unmet.


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