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Movie Review: 'The Listener' starring Tessa Thompson

It's an exceptional one woman show for Tessa Thompson in The Listener.

By Sean PatrickPublished 19 days ago 4 min read
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The Listener (2024)

Directed by Steve Buscemi

Written by Alessandro Camon

Starring Tessa Thompson

Release Date March 29th, 2024

Published March 27th, 2024

The Listener is one of the last of the COVID movies. The film stars Tessa Thompson as the only on screen performance, playing a suicide hotline operator. You can sense the social distancing guidelines, the loneliness hangs in every frame, and the memory is still fresh for us all. For many of us those memories are of finding ways to connect with people from a distance. That's the subtext of The Listener, the desperate desire we all have to feel heard, understood, and cared for by someone.

Beth, not her real name, lives alone. She works the overnight period, that time when the world is supposed to grow quiet. It's rarely quiet for Beth as her phone rings throughout the night as lonely, scared, suicidal people call her looking for a reason to stay alive for another day. If this is a burden to Beth, she doesn't let on, even in scenes where she's not on the phone she appears serene and resigned to what her life is.

On this night on which we observe Beth as a fly on the wall, with a microphone on the phone, we will watch and listen as Beth talks with an array of lonely misfits and mentally ill, traumatized individuals trying to decide if they should harm themselves or others. None of Beth's calls are the same even as more than one comes from former soldiers struggling with the effects of PTSD.

As Beth listens to her callers she draws what she thinks they might look like and pencils out little drawings reflecting their stories. We don't see all of these drawings but the ones we do see are lovely and evocative. It's a rare glimpse into Beth's private life, the one place you can sense the real Beth behind the professionally trained listener turned counselor/therapist. The drawings are a rare drop of the professional veil.

The centerpiece conversation in The Listener involves a caller voiced by the brilliantly talented Rebecca Hall. We may not see Hall but her voice work is impeccable, bringing Hall's many brilliant, in-person performances to mind as she unwinds a twisty tale of a woman reaching middle age and struggling for a reason to keep struggling. The chemistry between Thompson and Hall is palpable as they parry and thrust their way through a sticky conversation that is quite implicitly about the caller's desire to end things.

All the while, director Steve Buscemi doesn't keep his camera too busy. A lesser director would be eager to push the camera around and try to force the visual aspects to make up for the lack of physical action. Thompson does pace about when she talks but we're still talking about one location and one actor. Buscemi's patient approach, moving the camera in a subtle fashion to help audiences mentally map the apartment and have a spatial awareness of the set, is just right for this material. It's an exceptionally well directed film, technically sound but not overly ambitious.

Buscemi knows that the dynamic nature of The Listener will come from his star and he's chosen his star well. Thompson has a wonderfully empathetic manner. She has a lovely face with thoughtful eyes and a honey dripping voice. Her physicality, the way she stands, walks, doodles, these are the only actions in the movie and they all feel natural. When she's seated she's direct and involved. When she's moving, she's giving into nerves a little. These subtle physical choices ground the film and give the character dimension that you'd miss if you weren't looking for it. Sometimes the best acting comes when you don't notice the acting happening. That's Tessa Thompson in The Listener.

Find my archive of more than 20 years and more than 2000 movie reviews at SeanattheMovies.blogspot.com. Find my modern review archive on my Vocal Profile, linked here. Follow me on Twitter at PodcastSean. Follow the archive blog on Twitter at SeanattheMovies. Listen to me talk about movies on the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast. If you have enjoyed what you have read, consider subscribing to my writing on Vocal. If you'd like to support my writing, you can do so by making a monthly pledge or by leavng a one time tip. Thanks!

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About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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  • Mariann Carroll19 days ago

    I got to watch this movie, thanks for this review….. You are my movie review , go to

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