By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
Humor and the gentler sex have cinematically been in bed together since Mae West first uttered her suggestive one-liners (often finding herself in trouble with the Hays Code, and previously jailed on morals charges for her 1926 play entitled Sex). In her first film scene in 1932’s Night After Night, rewritten by the actress herself, a hat-check girl fed her the line, “Goodness, what a beautiful diamond.” West retorted, “Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie.” 80 years later, we get a phone sex romp that, by its very nature of the virtual, um, hands-off concept of ringing the caller’s bell without so much as mussing one’s hair, proves that the feminine take on the sex-capade is alive and well.
Think of For a Good Time, Call … as a companion piece to 2008’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno. In both movies, single twentysomethings who are hard up for rent money decide to make a fast buck in the sex-for-hire industry. Though they’re amateurs, their foray into the strange land of the stranger’s libido elevates the comedy. Along with co-star Justin Long, look for cameos from prior Zack and Miri alums Seth Rogen and writer/director Kevin Smith. Both movies inhabit a similar breezy sensibility … plus there’s a sly, additional undertow as these double-dialing call girls struggle with the concept of mutual attraction (such as in the Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg script of Superbad).
On to the screening of this particular call: Things are looking dicey for onetime enemies Katie (Ari Graynor) and Lauren (Lauren Anne Miller). Between Katie suddenly facing a surprise rent hike, and Lauren suffering an unexpected break-up with her boyfriend — leaving her without a roof over her head – mutual friend Jesse (Justin Long) steps in to get the two together, suggesting that the warring women forget their past differences and share some valuable Manhattan real estate. As far as the restrained, somewhat humorless Lauren is concerned, while the upside is that Katie’s Gramercy Park apartment may be one of the biggest and best in the city, the downside means having to accept the loud, somewhat vulgar Katie as a roomie. Happily, their petty cold war doesn’t last for long.
When smart businesswoman Lauren realizes that Katie is toiling away at a phone sex job that barely pays, she steps in to form a new company. Acting as a truly silent partner, Lauren is the force behind the creation of the brand new “1-900-Mmm-Hmmm,” replete with a landline and a bright pink retro phone. Their success is so stunning, phones ringing off the hook-er, that the women find themselves needing to hire additional help. But when the new employee doesn’t quite work out, Lauren volunteers for the job herself. Now it’s Katie’s turn to teach Lauren a new trick or two.
Don’t be looking for anything but surface silliness, hearkening back to such ’80s female-driven comedies as Outrageous Fortune and Big Business. Perhaps an unintended coincidence, but both of those films featured Bette Midler, who bears a certain resemblance to Ms. Graynor. More to the point, Midler and Graynor share an over-the-top theatricality and winking cheeriness; and it’s just that exaggerated sense of fun that helps turns For a Good Time … into an even better time.
As the conservative shy one, Miller’s Lauren credibly blooms into a smarter, more confident version of herself, finally freed from her hovering parents’ expectations. The two women balance each other beautifully, their chemistry palpable, as the story allows them to trade places as novice and teacher.
While Jamie Travis directs with a smart, quick eye, the screenplay by Miller and Katie Anne Naylon experiences some severe interference on the line. The jokes work, as does the spirit, but there are a few plot contrivances that set off bells … and not in a good way.
But back to the cel-a-bration: Between Katie’s outlandish jumpsuits, Lauren’s classic, understated sophistication mutating into ring-a-ding splash, and Jesse’s mulberry shorts, Maya Lieberman’s costumes imbue the film with comedic delight. In these pared-down indie times, it’s not that often that we see the wardrobe hanging around the spotlight (musicals excepted). And yet, instead of upstaging the action, the creative dress literally dresses-up the wild and wacky scenarios.
Though the finale reflects an upbeat ending, we still have that questionable undertow. A shame that the filmmakers played it just a little too safe with this particular Bluetooth-some twosome. Darn. Where’s Mae West when you need her?
Rating on a scale of 5 unfortunate hang-ups: 3.5
Release date: August 31, 2012
Directed by: Jamie Travis
Screenplay by: Katie Anne Naylon & Lauren Anne Miller
Cast: Ari Graynor, Lauren Anne Miller, James Wolk, Nia Vardalos, Mark Webber, Justin Long
Running Time: 86 minutes