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First Look Review - THE TELEPHONE GAME

Improvised drama revolving around an amateur theatre group's attempt to stage a play.


Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Jason P Schumacher

Starring: Wes Tank, Haley Chamberlain, Alex Barbatsis, KariAnn Christensen



"This show doesn’t only go on; it goes on and on and on, and, despite its artful cinematography and audacious experimentalism, it’s hard to see many audiences sticking The Telephone Game out to curtain call."


I’m sure we can all agree that watching movies, and subsequently waffling about them, is great fun for the most part. But have you ever been involved with the actual making of a film? Oh, but it is an onerous endeavour. Setting up shots, repeating takes, dealing with personalities which range obnoxiously from the eccentric to the intolerable.  Boring too, you know. Lots and lots of waiting around. And if The Telephone Game is to be trusted, then the same operoseness applies to amateur theatre. You see, this largely improvised film depicts the process of staging a play, and the various stresses and demands which the proto-luvvies involved have to deal with while they attempt to realise their am-dram dreams.
Marco (pensive Jack Black a-like Wes Tank), the play within a film’s director, is a tortured artiste, dedicated to the accomplishment of his vision. In the time honoured manner of Francis Ford Coppola in Hearts of Darkness, he is fuming at his lot; actors who cannot appreciate the delicacy of the lines, performers who burst into song inopportunely, a co-constructer who disapproves of his affair with the leading lady. And they say nurses have it bad! A sample dialogue of Marcus’ play, ‘why do pigs make such awful sounds….Same reason humans do, they are aware of their own fate’, tells you all you need to know about the type of show the gang are attempting to put on; pretentious, gauche and ever so slightly grating. Hipster, in other words. Imdb bills The Telephone Game as a comedy/drama, so perhaps the angle is to satirise a recognisable type of undergraduate theatre, but, even though parts of the film are reasonably amusing, other bits aim for a more serious and elegant tone, so the approach of the film is rendered erratic. While Marcus’ mugging is played for laughs, soon after there is also a charming (but almost completely random) sequence where a female player sings a lovely song, a scene which is clearly meant to be sincere and is therefore incongruous to the otherwise parodic tone of the picture.
There is largely successful aspiration towards the sort of loose, emotive improvisation that film makers such as Cassavetes pioneered, but the issue with The Telephone Game is one of inconsistency. The film plays like a sizzle reel: a repertory’s portfolio. The cast is numerous and everyone does a turn - from the guy who performs a Peter-Piper style tongue twister, to the couple who sing a funny little ditty about brains at the piano, to the ones who do a dance number - no one is left out.
The Telephone Game’s genuine impetus would seem to be to deliver a profile for the cast (who are young enough to be still students/aspirant actors). And, if I was a casting director judging the film on that virtue, I really would be spoilt for choice with these talented, gleeful young go-getters doing their respective things, but as a film reviewer I was left a little perplexed. Truthfully, it’s hard to care if Marcus’ play comes off or not - this lot aren’t, say, the kids from Fame with their respective journeys: we only ever really see them in the context of performance, and are given little about their background. We’re left with experimental, in-jokey riffs and skits that don’t coalesce into a distinct atmosphere or narrative. Perhaps that’s the point, but this show doesn’t only go on; it goes on and on and on, and, despite its artful cinematography (the film is shot in a clean monochrome) and audacious experimentalism, it’s hard to see many audiences sticking The Telephone Game out to curtain call.




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