In an age in which nearly every possible form of sexual activity can be easily viewed on the internet, there's something curiously old-fashioned about phone sex. Studies have demonstrated that men respond most strongly to visual stimulation, a conclusion which we can safely file away in the “well, duh” folder. So why do phone sex lines remain so popular? Yes, they remove the visual component, but perhaps they stoke the imagination in a way that traditional pornography cannot. It's an interesting subject for a film, but alas, For a Good Time, Call... is not a particularly interesting film.
Jamie Travis' low-budget comedy tells the story of two women with vastly different personalities. Lauren Powell (Lauren Miller, Superbad) is a shy, quiet young businesswoman working her way up the corporate ladder. Katie Steele (Ari Graynor, The Guilt Trip) is a loud, raunchy gal who works for a phone sex line. Lauren and Katie kinda-sorta knew each other back in high school, but a horribly embarrassing incident in their past has prevented them from keeping in touch. However, when both women find themselves in serious financial trouble (Lauren loses her job, and Katie has fallen behind on her rent), they begrudgingly agree to share an apartment together.
When Lauren learns of Katie's career as a phone sex operator, she sees a financial opportunity: instead of making $1 a minute working for some sleazy company, why not start her own phone sex line? Lauren's business savvy is quickly paired with Katie's talent for dirty talk, and soon these two enterprising women are back in the black. Ah, but how long will it be before Lauren's conservative parents learn about her new profession? Is Katie using the phone sex line as an excuse to avoid real-life intimacy? Will Lauren and Katie overcome their assorted differences and become inseparable friends? Will there be a dramatic moment at the end of the second act that threatens to permanently destroy their friendship? Will there be phone sex montages underscored by Blondie's “Call Me?” Will Lauren eventually feel inspired to start engaging in a little phone sex herself? No fair telling.
For a Good Time, Call... is a thoroughly predictable flick from start to finish, but the real problem is that it's not a particularly funny one. There's an abundance of dirty talk (“Whatever they talk about, I just tell 'em I wanna lick it,” Katie confides), but disappointingly little wit. It's not the fault of the actors: Graynor and Miller both deliver convincing, fully-formed performances, with the former delivering a performance that feels like vintage Bette Midler and the latter making a persuasive transition from sad-eyed wallflower to vivacious phone sex enthusiast. It's just that there's so little they can do with this unimaginative writing. The dialogue is R-rated, but so much of the film feels like a soon-to-be-cancelled network sitcom.
The men in the film are more immediately recognizable, but the movie leans on their star power rather than giving them actual characters. Justin Long (She's Just Not That Into You) is half-convincing as the stereotypical Gay Best Friend. James Wolk (Mad Men) is less convincing as Lauren's vain on-and-off boyfriend. Kevin Smith (Clerks), Seth Rogen (Superbad) and Ken Marino (Party Down) turn in cameos as horny clients, and all three manage to give off the same, “Eh, I'm just doing this little movie a favor” vibe. The film's best thread involves the romantic relationship that slowly develops between Katie and one of her faithful callers (Mark Webber, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), but even that feels like a pretty blatant reworking of the Martin Freeman/Joanna Page subplot from Love, Actually.
To Travis' credit, the film does a surprisingly good job of mimicking the look and feel of a slick, big-budget studio comedy (which is probably the reason the tiny movie received a pretty big marketing campaign when it was released in theatres), but the imitation is a little too good: the movie feels like a cookie-cutter version of a thousand romantic comedies. You'd think that a movie about phone sex would manage to feel at least a little bit unique, if nothing else. While training Lauren, Katie frequently trumpets the importance of enthusiastic vulgarity and free-flowing creativity. For a Good Time, Call... only manages the former part.
For a Good Time, Call...
Rating: ★★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 85 minutes
Release Year: 2012