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May 29, 2013

For a Good Time, Call…

by Franz Patrick


For a Good Time, Call… (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Assigned on business to Rome for the summer, Charlie (James Wolk) thinks that this period is a great time for him and his girlfriend, Lauren (Lauren Miller), to “evaluate” their relationship. This leaves Lauren homeless so she turns to her best gay friend, Jesse (Justin Long), for help. He has an idea. Since Katie (Ari Graynor) cannot afford to pay rent (and only has four days to pay back rent before she gets evicted), he suggests that the two girls–even if they do not get along–move in together. Failing to make ends meet, the new roommates start a private business: a phone sex line.

Written by Lauren Miller and Katie Anne Naylon, “For a Good Time, Call…” makes a solid extended pilot of a television sitcom. There are colorful characters, the jokes are in the script, and some of the punchlines work. But as a full-length feature film, it is considerably less effective because although dramatic elements are injected into the script to avoid being one-note, the conflicts lack a certain depth to make the eventual evolution of the characters convincing.

The picture is at its best when the two contrasting personalities of its protagonists are front and center. Lauren is boring but smart; Katie is exciting but limited. We believe their partnership because they complete each other in terms of running a successful business venture. Miller plays Lauren with a relatable self-doubt given that, essentially, she had just been dumped and her career prospects is dimming. Meanwhile, Graynor plays Katie as a fabulous ball of pink energy so willing to do or say anything, we cannot help but suspect she might be hiding something underneath all of that commotion.

And yet for a movie about sex operators, it seems quite tame. While it is not the kind of movie one would necessarily play full blast on surround sound, the scope of the content is limited to perhaps late teens or early twenty-somethings. The crudest it gets is that we see a pair of sex toys on a living room table. Also, although there is talk about economic struggle and landing the right job in order to get a career going, these potentially interesting and identifiable elements are consistently put in the back burner. The story might have been more believable if Katie and Lauren are actually seen struggling to survive in the city instead of just looking sad or whining.

Most disappointing is the screenplay not taking advantage of the roles of Lauren’s well-to-do parents. We know they are going to find out about their daughter’s new job eventually but it takes too long to get to that point. It would have been a nice surprise if they found out about it quite early on. Obviously, they will be disappointed because what kind of parents would want their child to run a phone sex line. Coupled with alterations in the script in order to allow them to say more, they could have been a symbol of American society judging professions that are considered sleazy or wrong. Then the film would not feel like a sitcom.

In reality, people who are poor and/or living with debt do whatever has to be done just for them and their families to survive the next day. Although it is a comedy, “For a Good Time, Call…” strips away so much of the reality to make the subject matter digestible that it ends up as a sort-of fantasy. I still can’t deny, however, that it was able to make me laugh from time to time.

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