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Sundance Review: 'For a Good Time, Call...'
Raunchy phone sex comedy has big laughs and real commercial potential
Five minutes into the Sundance comedy "For a Good Time, Call..." I was cringing.
My notes read like this:
"Wow. This is... broad."
"Geez. REALLY broad."
"Neither leading lady introduced with any subtlety."
"Guess we're not downplaying the coarseness, eh?"
[Yes. My notes are often designed to be read with a slight Canadian accent.]
It was not an encouraging start for the Sundance Premieres entry from director Jamie Travis and writers Lauren Anne Miller and Katie Anne Naylon.
Then a funny thing started happening. Or, more literally, funny things started happening. "For a Good Time, Call..." never exactly became subtle, but under what circumstances is a story of two college enemies who bond and become friends when they start a phone sex line designed to be understated?
Yes, "For a Good Time, Call..." is broad. And yes, it's coarse. It also produced more laugh-out-loud moments than any comedy I've seen at Sundance thus far.
Driven by stars Ari Graynor and Miller, plus a slew of memorable supporting performances and a handful of exceptional cameos I'd hate to spoil, "For a Good Time, Call..." is unapologetically raunchy and rude, which should only be an asset in our post-"Bridesmaids" era.
Full review after the break...
When her insufferable boyfriend (James Wolk) uses a transfer to Italy as an excuse to terminate their "boring" relationship, prim-and-proper Lauren (Miller) finds herself needing a new place to live.
Facing the end of her apartment's rent controlled status and unable to make ends meet despite holding down three menial jobs, free-spirited Katie faces either giving up her late Bubie's home or taking on a new roommate.
Fortunately, the two women share a gay BFF (Justin Long) who tries to set them up for a new cohabitation.
Unfortunately, Lauren and Katie have an acrimonious history that involves a college party and a cup of urine.
At first, it looks Katie and Lauren are heading for a winner-take-apartment battle of wills. Most of y'all haven't seen the pilot for ABC's "The B---- in Apartment 23," but trust me when I say this was coming across as a less sharp version of that midseason comedy.
Then Lauren discovers that Katie has been working for a phone sex line and offers her superior level of organization to help Katie launch her own number. Katie, in turn, offers to use her lack of filter and her dirty mind to help Lauren shake off the "boring" stigma. They turn out to be a perfect partnership.
Because most of the dialogue through most of "For a Good Time, Call..." stems from the phone sex business, I can't reproduce any of it for this review, other than to compliment the writers for not pulling any lewd punches and the actors for diving into the nastiness with glee and gusto. There's a "Sundance Laugh," which is more akin to a wry snort of knowing derision than to an actual and satisfying guffaw. "For a Good Time, Call..." generates actual belly laughs, though there's a split between lines that seem organic to the characters and situations and lines that feel like a pair of screenwriters giggling and saying "Can you believe we're going to get away with somebody saying it?" Fortunately, there's much more of the former.
Whether you choose to credit "Bridesmaids" for the obvious increase in female-driven comedies at this year's Festival or if you choose to believe that something has been in the water for a few years and that "Bridesmaids" was just the wildly successful tip of the spear, one of the true pleasures of this year's Sundance has been seeing so many of my favorite actresses getting the chances to carry funny movies. It doesn't even matter if those moves are uniformly strong, seeing Lizzy Caplan and Alison Brie in "Save the Date," Rashida Jones in "Celeste and Jesse Forever," Aubrey Plaza in "Safety Not Guaranteed," Mary Elizabeth Winstead in "Smashed" and many more is a good sign. And perhaps even more significant has been seeing the number of those movies that are written by or co-written by women.
For years, I've been a little mystified that Ari Graynor wasn't getting the chance to do more than play the sassy best friend in indie comedies and, when she was getting to do more than that, it was too often in movies like "The Sitter." I've long admired her gung-ho comedic sprit and notable willingness to set 'prettiness" aside in favor if hitting punchlines. She's got a better-than-average best friend role in "Celeste and Jesse Forever," but "For a Good Time, Call..." ought to be the vehicle that sets her up to, at the very least, get the chance to play the lead in an edgy sitcom or something. In "For a Good Time," Graynor talks dirty and dances with reckless abandon, but she's also the soft and gooey center of the sweet friendship and endearingly off-kilter romance (with this Sundance's ubiquitous Mark Webber) that keep the movie from spiraling off into empty nastiness. Oh and Graynor is also an executive producer on "Call..." so good on her.
[Entirely unrelated side note: Perhaps because I saw "For a Good Time, Call..." and "Save the Date" only hours apart, I was also pleased and amused that Brie and Caplan's character in "Date" and Graynor's character here are identified as Jewish. Neither film overplays that character detail, but neither show shies from it either. Yes. That's something that only I will be amused by.]
Although Miller has been in movies that I've seen and enjoyed in the past, I don't think I've ever remembered her. I'll definitely keep an eye out for this writer-producer-star in the future. As I said in the very beginning, Lauren isn't introduced especially well and Miller probably over-plays the prissiness and repression. But as Lauren opens up and begins to find joy in both their sex-working enterprise and the developing friendship with Katie, Miller becomes funnier and funnier.
Miller and Graynor are the focus of every scene in the film, but there's still room for a little theft from the supporting cast. Justin Long's choices as gay bud Jesse are probably a bit too easy, but he still gets laughs out of them, especially when working opposite a sad-eyed dog named Zelda. Baby-voiced Sugar Lyn Beard only has a couple sequences, but she makes a vivid impression. And then there are the cameos, which I won't spoil in specific, only telling you to watch out for the celebrity masturbators. And no, that's not a sentence you get to write very often when you aren't at Sundance.
"For a Good Time, Call..." is the future directing debut of Jamie Travis, best known for shorts including the 2010 Sundance entry "The Armoire." I haven't seen them, but the shorts have been praised for their visual complexity. That's not really a side of Travis that gets featured here. His job, which isn't an easy one, is keeping "For a Good Time, Call..." light and lively, while maintaining the balance between naughtiness and heart. If some of his artistic and pacing decisions feel a little too conventional, that's probably also why "For a Good Time, Call..." has already been picked up by Focus and has a chance to be a breakout.
So keep an eye out for "For a Good Time, Call..." It'll probably require a red-band trailer, since I can't think of much dialogue that doesn't involve sexual slang and innuendo. And when you go to see it, don't get too bummed out when it seems awkward in the beginning. There's plenty of laughter to come. Yes. Double-entendre. I apologize.
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