'For a Good Time, Call ...' Connects
James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
Made for a well-spent shoestring budget, director Jamie Travis' feature debut, "For a Good Time, Call ...," is not just smart and sexy -- which, to be honest, is rare enough in filmmaking these days -- it's also got a great deal of humanity and humor. The two female lead characters, played by Ari Graynor and co-screenwriter Lauren Anne Miller, are not just written as sexual human beings, but, even more impressively, as fully realized human beings. Its ideas and execution make it both rare and well-done, and if the end result is more medium-cool than sizzling, better that than frigid at the center or charred at the edges.
The plot begins with that time-honored story-starter: a huge, almost-affordable New York apartment. Katie (Graynor) needs a roommate to pay the newly increased rent, while Lauren (Miller), freshly separated from a bland beau, needs a place to live. The two are brought together by mutual pal Jesse (Justin Long, laying the flamboyance on with the delicacy of a dump truck raising its payload and gunning the engine). Soon Lauren realizes that the moans and groans coming from Katie's room aren't pleasure but business; Katie works in part as a phone sex provider.
Lauren, holding out for her dream job as a book editor, isn't shocked by Katie's work. She is shocked why Katie lets someone else charge $4.99 a minute for her, uh, attentions so that she might make pennies on the dollar. She becomes manager, promoter, payroll and administration, and when Katie's schedule fills up, Lauren steps in to seize more than just the means of production.
It turns out, in traditional movie-comedy fashion, that uptight Lauren can learn a few things from Katie's free-spirited ways. What's refreshing here is that the excellent script (and that credit should go to Miller and co-writer Katie Anne Naylon) also notes how the scattered and often all-talk Katie can learn a few things from Lauren's managerial, mature ways.
Between the candy-colored look of the film (the phone Lauren gets Katie as an under-new-management present is a hot pink, Pepto-plastic '70s touch-tone) and its zesty, lusty attitude about sex that manages to be both fun and responsible, the girls' work is never presented as a chore or as tawdry. Katie explains how the work is basically interactive and quick: "Whatever they say ... I just tell 'em I wanna lick it." Lauren, on the other hand, hurls herself into her work as she goes from management to labor, making money and having fun. With one exception -- Mark Webber's frequent chatter who manages to go from customer to boyfriend while never seeming creepy -- the guy callers are portrayed as mostly crass and clueless by a cast of cameo-appearance familiar names. I gave a small smile when a loud, proud, once-was indie director turns up, perfectly typecast as a braying, inept masturbator.
Miller, Graynor and Naylon all convey how sex is both too important to not talk about and, ultimately, too important to just talk about. The fact all these quiet, smart notes happen among the beats and chords of a great soundtrack and underneath scenes with the broad humor of farce -- like having nonchalant chats with various authority figures who don't know about the girls' recession-busting ingenuity and employment while weapons-grade sex toys dangle off the coffee table -- is a big part of "For a Good Time, Call ..."
A lot of things make this film easy to like, but what makes it excellent is the creative chemistry, on-screen and offscreen, between the actors, the co-writers and the director, and how the film uses sex to look at friendship, money, inhibition, openness, careerism, real estate and more. "For a Good Time, Call ..." never rushes, never gets clumsy, never forgets that all parties involved are supposed to be enjoying themselves. In other words, like sex, even when it ain't great, it's still pretty good, and when it's good, it makes an impression.
James Rocchi's writings on film have appeared at Cinematical.com, Netflix.com, AMCtv.com, IFC.com, SFGate.com and in Mother Jones magazine. He was also the on-air film critic for San Francisco's CBS-5 from 2006 to 2008. He now lives in Los Angeles, where every ending is a twist ending.