“Can I help at all?”
It’s nice to see an artist who’s unafraid to play with tragedy and find a way to make it transform into a bittersweet glimmer of hope. There’s a fine line in doing so, one that can easily consume the goal into a trite abyss trying too hard to stay afloat within the melodrama. I can see Mat Kirkby and James Lucas‘ The Phone Call proving just as unsuccessful to some as it was touching to me. I wouldn’t say it’s a resounding triumph considering its finale inherently carries with it a grain of salt you must take, but it definitely hit me with enough force to feel some tears welling along with a smile forming for the two characters engaging in a conversation based purely on empathy and compassion despite the futility to do anything else but talk.
It takes a special kind of person to work as a crisis hotline member, especially when you’re not allowed to trace any calls or set up measures to ensure the scared party on the other end of the phone remains safe. It has to be a solitary life—one able to trap you within your own head to confront the darkness you wish you could illuminate but know that watching is all you can do. This is Heather (Sally Hawkins), a shy woman awkwardly greeting a co-worker (Edward Hogg) engaged with his own caller yet never too preoccupied to not wave back with the sort of sheepish desire for affection she shares. While his conversation seems less than life or death, the man (Jim Broadbent) ringing her phone is exactly that.
There’s a beautiful simplicity to what Kirby and Lucas bring to life, one saying much through its performances despite our not seeing more than a single vantage point. They eventually bring us into Stanley’s home, but it isn’t to meet or humanize or pity him. No, we enter his domain to see and hear the clock ticking on his mantle just as one does on Heather’s office wall and the watch she holds. Time is the constant—it’s flux between too much and too little moving back and forth depending on mood, ambition, or defeat. The act of her giving solace is what we latch onto, but his yearning to accept it as nothing more than a friend holding his hand might be even more resonate. We all want to live; few are so certain they don’t.
While Broadbent delivers a stirring portrayal of a man coming to grips with the potentially irreversible deed he’s done in the name of loneliness and love, it’s Hawkins who we watch. She’s phenomenal in the role, traveling from stock checklist queries to genuine concern to heartbreaking helplessness. She tries so hard and with each dead end leaving her caller anonymous never stops being strong when all she wants to do is scream in frustration. You can’t save everyone and if he’s too far-gone she can at least give comfort in his final minutes. To Stan love is worth dying for and even though the darkness such a sentiment carries is painful, there’s something to feeling passionate enough to give you pause about your own life. In the end, it might be Stanley who’s saving Heather.