Pauline and Barry are a long-married middle-aged couple who have settled into a nice, comfortable life together. At least that’s what Pauline thinks — until she tunes into the relationship hour on her local talk radio station and recognizes the voice of the current live caller. It’s her husband, relaying a lifetime of resentment, ennui and regrets to a public audience.
Pauline is devastated as the calling details a litany of complaints. But as he goes on, he seems to come to a point of illumination: one that just might change the course of his marriage.
Written and directed by Ben S. Hyland, this deftly timed short comedy mines the terrain of domesticity, exploring how marriage can be a cauldron of long-simmering resentments that bubble up in unexpected ways.
The film unfolds with a certain studied, cheery brightness, with quirkily framed visuals that portray a cozy, contented home, presided over by a contented wife presiding over a home-cooked meal. There are no fancy camera movements, favoring simple but precise images of objects and rooms that give the film a nostalgic, almost picture-postcard quality.
But there’s just something slightly off, particularly when Barry enters the picture. The dynamic between Barry and Pauline is stilted, and he seems disconnected and resentful, even as Pauline attempts to be kind and affectionate. The writing and direction offer commentary and information that upend the seemingly idyllic life of the couple, especially as Pauline realizes that Barry is the caller on the talk radio show, detailing a hurtful stream of resentments. The storytelling skillfully balances Pauline’s real devastation as she listens with ironic touches of humor.
The performances, too, balance the real pathos of a woman discovering exactly what her husband thinks about her with stylized comic timing. Actor Julia Deakin plays Pauline’s emotions with muted sincerity, playing the grounded straight man against actor Pearce Quigley, whose Barry is a paragon of dry, deadpan dourness. Quigley’s voice also finds a perfect comic balance in Barry’s phone call — one which has great consequences on Pauline’s understanding of him, and her feelings about their marriage.
“Talk Radio” ends with a touch of dark comedy, and a final twist on a punch line about domestic discontent and how even the most seemingly peaceful picture can hide roiling anger and resentment. It’s the final, masterful riff on the idea that you can never truly tell what another person is feeling, even under the most placid and contented surfaces — and it’s perhaps best to communicate about your feelings to one another before it’s too late.