"The Telephone" (selected theaters) is a Whoopi Goldberg one-woman show dressed up as a movie, an approach that not only underlines the theatricality of the entire undertaking but also intensifies its suffocating effect to an intolerable degree.
Very quickly you feel trapped with Goldberg's disintegrating actress in her funky San Francisco apartment, but instead of developing empathy for Goldberg's Vashti Blue, you just want to get away from her. (We can be grateful to New World for having trimmed 15 minutes from the film.) How much better it would have been to place Goldberg on an empty stage and left the physical confines of her predicament to the imagination.
Vashti has holed herself up in her cluttered home at a time of deep personal and professional despair, having been deserted by her lover and out of work. For company she has only a goldfish and an adored owl.
But her lifeline to the world is, above all, her zebra-striped phone.
When Vashti isn't regaling her friends with her woes, she's throwing herself an imaginary party, attended by among others, a grand British Shakespearean actress. In short, writers Harry Nilsson and Terry Southern devised "The Telephone" as a format for Goldberg to strut her stuff. Goldberg goes at it with a vengeance, taking us on a roller-coaster ride of shifting moods, cracking jokes, dancing around and just plain goofing off.