The Telephone Game (2010) – By Josh Samford

I have always had a love for works of meta-fiction. Particularly films that deal with the creative process, where we see films dealing with the creation of other films, with the results being the exploration of fact and fiction. Although I knew very little about The Telephone Game before popping the DVD into my player, I was quite excited to find something that piqued that particular curiosity of mine. While The Telephone Game didn’t turn out precisely as I expected it to, it did provide some serious food for thought in the midst of a massive cinematic experiment. Director Jason P. Schumacher takes his film in some very unique directions and although I found there to be some pacing issues, it turns out to be a thought provoking insight into the heart of creation.

Marco (Wesley Charles Tank) is a playwright with some accreditation amongst the local theater crowd. An arrogant, but creative, young man with a heavy burden on his shoulders, our film begins with the casting of his latest play. While searching for his leading lady, Marco auditions the beautiful Zelphia (Haley Chamberlain) who couldn’t be more perfect for the role. Immediately Marco begins to see himself in the lead, due apparently to the lack of talent coming in for the part as well as his own infatuation with Zelphia. After pre-production begins, Marco and Zelphia find themselves wrapped up in a love affair. Although the two love each other, Marco continually finds himself wrapped up in his play and sacrifices his own sanity in keeping up with the tremendous pressures involved in seeing this play go in the right direction. Will Marco sacrifice his friendships and his sanity, all in the name of creativity?

The Telephone Game establishes itself in the realm of conceptual art with its black and white photography and free flowing narrative structure. In fact, the entire script as far as the dialogue goes was apparently improvised by the cast in order to give the film a more realistic atmosphere. This decision gives the film a dual edge as it certainly does feel authentic in the midst of heated arguments, but as is the situation in real life, people don’t always have the best arguments when they are pushed and their adrenaline starts to pump. This of course leads to many fragmented sentences and ideas that are never capitalized on. Some might say c’est la vie since our film is meta and the idea is to create something real, and fragmented sentences and ideas happen in real conversation, so this was intentional and it works at what it attempts. I can agree with that pattern of thinking, but I am also in strong defense of structure even in improvisation, but I don’t think it is something I fault the film for.

The cast in the film are mix of talents, with some truly standout performances and some who are still strongly theatrical in their output. In the main cast, I really liked Haley Chamberlain who plays Zelphia. A very strong young actress, her performance never comes across as forced or intense for the sake of being intense. She is the more toned down, subtle and nuanced side of the coin in comparison to Wesley Charles Tank’s depiction of Marco. Although Tank doesn’t take his character over the top, he balances right on the edge of being too much. His performance is great though, I must say, but in a totally different way than what Chamberlain does. I think he does a great job in showing the overly dramatic nature of Marco. In life, many of the more creative people you meet also turn out to be some of the most overly dramatic. Marco strikes me as the type of character who might craft an elaborate conspiracy in order to explain the reason a traffic cop might give him a speeding ticket. He is the type of character who must be tortured by external forces and must have a dramatic tension in everything that he does. His arrogance is tangible throughout the film and as legitimate pressures build up, he unleashes his own internal demons on everyone around him.

The Telephone Game works best in the context of being a cinematic experiment. This is a film made by young filmmakers looking to mix the theatrical aesthetic with the dramatic narrative complexities of film. The majority of the movie takes place in a gymnasium where our characters sit and practice for a theatrical play that no one seems to really understand, certainly not in the way that the author originally envisioned. The movie uses the act of creation as a jumping off point to discuss the ego and self made importance of those who look to control the flow of ideas. I realize how pompous that must sound, when in reality this is a rather simple love story, but the complexities that come from these mixed up tangible elements make for something worthy of discussion.

The movie has its issues however, I must confess. Clocking in at almost two hours in length, it could have used some trimming in order to help the pace seem more brisk. With the focus on such a limited number of characters and the ideas being easy enough to bottle up, this could have been shaved down twenty minutes and been even more powerful. As things stand though, I really liked what Schumacher did with the film and I hope that this leads to bigger and better things for the cast and crew. If you have the opportunity to check the film out, I highly recommend you do so! You can read more about the film at the official Myspace page, here: http://www.myspace.com/thetelephonegame