10.09.2022 / 10:33
‘The Listener’ Review: Tessa Thompson Speaks to the Sleepless as the Audience Dozes Off
Guy Lodge Film Critic If you found yourself wide awake in the wee small hours with personal demons rattling in your brain, and you picked up the phone to share them with a patient, neutral stranger, Tessa Thompson’s measured, calming voice is more or less exactly what you’d hope to hear on the other end of the line. As Beth, a night-shift volunteer for a crisis helpline, the actor’s naturally gentle, benevolent presence is the chief asset of Steve Buscemi’s minor-key chamber drama “The Listener” — not that she has a host of elements to compete with in what amounts, on screen at least, to a one-woman show. Thompson’s unforced credibility isn’t shared, however, by a flat, superficial script that treats an assortment of mental health ailments as quirky conversation fuel. Each anguished call that Beth takes, over the course of one long, dark night of assorted souls, is written less like a recognizable human exchange than as an actor’s heightened audition piece, and played out as such by a voice-only ensemble stacked with distractingly recognizable names. Though the global pandemic is only incidentally mentioned, “The Listener” plays in all aspects like a project conceived in the most self-searching and self-indulgent depths of the isolation era. It’s hard to imagine audiences wanting to enter that headspace now.