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Release Date: 03/29/24 [VOD]
Genre: Drama.

Studio: Vertical Entertainment.

"Follows a helpline volunteer who is part of the small army that gets on the phone every night, fielding calls from all kinds of people feeling lonely, broken, etc." 


A minimalist story shot one year into the global pandemic, The Listener is the perfect vehicle to showcase Tessa Thompson’s subtlety, beauty and sensitivity to a difficult subject matter.


As a helpline volunteer who works nights, Maggie (or “Beth” as she is known to her callers) is focused primarily on listening to her callers and supporting them as best she can. She does gradually reveal small bits of information about herself as she continues to take calls throughout the night.


As someone who actually does this work in real life (I’m a volunteer hotline counselor for youth in crisis), I thought the movie did a great job of showcasing the pain and beauty involved in this job. With every ring of the phone, you never know who will be on the other end of the line or what they will be grappling with. You never know how, or if, you’ll be able to help - you just know you are going to try.


The Listener feels like a live play in many ways, with a very limited set and cast as well as timeline: it all happens in one late-night helpline shift. Other actors did great voice work as her callers, but Thompson carries the story as the sole figure on-screen throughout the entire film.


Just as things are beginning to feel a bit sleepy - it is a repetitive, on-all-night job, after all - Thompson and the audience are jolted alert by one particularly challenging caller with a darkly “rational” and philosophical argument for suicide.


This caller abruptly rips Maggie out of her usual routine of doodles and wandering around her home, requiring her to focus hard and listen well, then offer her own compelling arguments for staying alive.


“Isn’t suffering just the other side of happiness? Isn’t loss just the other side of love? You could say that loss is the exact measure of love. You could say that suffering makes happiness possible,” Maggie pleads with the caller.

Thompson’s performance is award-worthy and beautiful. The Listener should definitely have some trigger warnings, though, for content related to suicide and mental health issues. Anyone struggling with depression or suicidal ideation might want to give this one a miss - or at least watch it with a good support system nearby. 


For those willing to mindfully focus, think, philosophize and, of course, listen, The Listener is a cut above the average Hollywood fare and eminently worthy of our time.

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