Title: For a Good Time, Call…
Director: Jamie Travis
Starring: Ari Graynor, Lauren Miller, Justin Long, Mark Webber, Nia Vardalos, Mimi Rogers and James Wolk, with cameos from Seth Rogen, Kevin Smith and Ken Marino
Its premise — two twentysomething gals, feeling the economic crunch of the times, partner on a phone-sex-line venture — sounds like a hopelessly broad, gender-flipped cash-grab at some of the raunchy comedy dollars that seem so easy to pry out of less discerning teen moviegoers’ wallets, but “For a Good Time, Call…” transcends the more pat aspects of its story, connecting by sheer force of personality while also indulging in a few unexpected changes in direction. Powered by a fizzy, buzzy energy and slick, funny repartee that channels some of the best female buddy pairings out there — think “Laverne & Shirley” or “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” — director Jamie Travis’ debut film, co-written by star Lauren Miller, is a genuine treat for gals and guys alike, exploiting for laughs the differences and similarities in male-female sexual attraction and gratification.
A world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “For a Good Time, Call…” grounds itself in a classic odd-couple pairing. Lauren Powell (Miller) is smarting from a break-up with her long-time boyfriend Charlie (James Wolk), and needs a place to stay while she waits for her résumé to open up a proper white-collar job. Spunky Katie Steele (Ari Graynor) finds herself in need of a roommate for the Gramercy Park-adjacent apartment she’s inherited from her grandmother. Mutual friend Jesse (Justin Long) re-introduces the pair, who have a prickly past dating back to one unfortunate night in college. Swallowing pride, they shack up and try to tolerate one another.
When the more conservative Lauren learns that Katie is working as a phone sex operator in order to make ends meet, though, she figures her business smarts could earn them both a lot more money. While keeping things from her parents, Lauren grows the business with Katie over the course of a summer. As Katie grapples with feelings for one of her regular callers, Shawn (Mark Webber), and Lauren finally learns of a job opening in her desired field, things get complicated.
All that’s right about “For a Good Time, Call…” stems from its screenplay, co-written by Miller and her college roommate, Katie Anne Naylon, so it’s hard to hold onto much animosity about the things that it fumbles. Certain story bits (a co-worker introduced and then discarded after being revealed as an impostor) don’t really work, and the script doesn’t fully and convincingly delve into some of the plausible reasons behind or consequences of an amusing character twist it introduces. Still, there’s a somewhat beguiling blend of the prim and lewd here (“Basically, whatever it is, I just tell ’em I’ll lick it,” says Katie of her phone sex technique), and the comedy overall speaks in a forthright manner, in a way few films do, to how so much of our sexual education is absorbed through anecdotes and conversations with friends. No matter that the two leads here are a decade removed from the bloom of adolescence — they each have their own sexual hang-ups and issues, and through their weird and unlikely partnership-turned-friendship, they’re both fumbling toward something approaching self-actualization.
Miller, Seth Rogen’s offscreen significant other, has a natural, girl-next-door beauty, as well as a buoyant charisma that draws almost equally from demure naïveté and a place with more slyness and depth. There’s a nougat center of playful naughtiness under that nice exterior (something to which almost every guy can connect), and the mischievous chemistry Miller shares with Graynor — a gifted comedienne who’s made her mark in supporting roles in movies like “The Sitter,” “Date Night,” “Youth in Revolt” and “Jesse and Celeste Forever” — is an intoxicating thing. Accept this “Call,” it’s well worth it.
Written by: Brent Simon