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‘For a Good Time, Call…” is low-key and sweet, but could have been great

For a Good Time, Call…
Directed by Jamie Travis
Written by Katie Anne Naylon & Lauren Anne Miller
USA, 2012

For a Good Time, Call… starts out cute, in the way that you might find watching children playing a dress-up sketch for adults at a holiday party cute. Eventually, this winking romantic comedy about two unlikely best friends running a phone-sex operation becomes cute in a more adult way; nevertheless, it always remains a pleasant trifle. There’s something quaint about the idea of phone sex being a hot business in 2012. The notion that people are so desperate to get off but can’t get what they’re looking for online may be a stretch, but For a Good Time, Call… pulls off the concept fairly well. The film’s most notable for one of its leads, Ari Graynor, having a star-making moment, giddily stealing the film from under her fellow actors’ noses.

Lauren Anne Miller, who co-wrote the film with Katie Anne Naylon, plays Lauren, who begins the movie at a fairly low point: her boyfriend breaks up with her because he thinks their relationship is too boring, she’s let go from her job, and she can’t hold onto her comfortable apartment. Graynor is Katie, an effervescent, bubbly blonde in danger of being kicked out of her grandmother’s swanky digs unless she can get a roommate to help pay the rent. A mutual friend of both women (Justin Long) encourages them to become roomies despite their shared animosity due to an unfortunate incident at a decade-old college party. Eventually, Lauren and Katie live together and bond as best friends while venturing into a phone-sex business spurred on by Lauren’s discovery that Katie works as a phone-sex operator to help pay the bills.

Naylon & Miller’s script slowly but surely reveals itself to be both a warm embrace and gentle mocking of romantic-comedy conventions, stripping away the romance but keeping the intense friendship of the two leads. Miller has decent chemistry with Graynor, but the latter actress is far more enjoyable to watch. Graynor’s had supporting roles in comedies like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, but this feels like her breakout role. Katie is so jumpy and physical, there are moments where she’s nearly bouncing off the walls. As this ball of energy, Graynor never once hits a false note. Miller has a few moments early on where her character acts more like a sulky child than a legitimately struggling adult, but she ends up being a well-needed voice of reason and sensibility in an otherwise outrageous venture.

The real flaw in For a Good Time, Call… is its unwillingness to avoid well-worn romantic-comedy pitfalls, such as false conflict. Most of the film operates smoothly, to the point where there’s almost no tension between the characters. Katie and Lauren become friendly quickly enough, and watching them grow inseparable is a lot of fun. However, Naylon & Miller are clearly leading us and the characters on, waiting to spring a pointless, tension-free twist that will put a crowbar between them, as they reevaluate their relationship. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how this conflict will resolve, thus making the waiting before the resolution needlessly annoying.

Though Graynor is the cream of the acting crop, the rest of the supporting cast is mostly fine. Long, as Katie and Lauren’s friend Jesse, toes the line between being riotously funny and somewhat obnoxious. His effeminacy is best taken in small doses; the more you get of him, the more forced he feels. Mark Webber, of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, plays a frequent caller to Katie’s line who ends up being something more serious to her; Webber has a laid-back and easygoing chemistry with Graynor. His character doesn’t get much deeper than being uber-supportive, but the actor plays it well. And although we don’t get to see many more of the people who call Katie and Lauren’s phone-sex line, there are some notable cameos, including one from Seth Rogen as a pilot determined to get off before his next flight. Honestly, part of the humor in each cameo (Rogen is one of four familiar folks, though he’s perhaps the most recognizable face) is in watching someone fairly well-known pretend to pleasure themselves. Few people, if any, would ever buy Seth Rogen as a person who flies real, live planes. Naylon & Miller, at least, distinguish each caller well enough to make it fresh each time they go to this comic well.

For a Good Time, Call… is low-key and sweet enough to work when it’s not focused on moving the plot forward. Ari Graynor and co-writer Lauren Anne Miller are in their element once their characters are deep into the phone-sex business, not when they have to be constricted to the confines of the story. This is a cute wisp of a movie that will make you laugh—possibly in recognition or embarrassment—but something that could’ve been better and sharper if it chose to turn romantic comedies on their ear by rejecting the old-hat clichés that define the genre.

— Josh Spiegel