Indie comedies tend to suffer from two shortcomings: First, the filmmakers think their clever wit is hilarious and unique, even when it isn’t; and second, they tend to lack a big-name draw to justify getting it made even if the script is thin. When it’s at the same time both, it’s an uphill battle to connect with it. But while For a Good Time, Call… starts out that way, it ends up on top … one laugh at a time.
Written by Katie Anne Naylor and Lauren Anne Miller, the story follows two women, Katie (Ari Gaynor) and Lauren (Miller), from dismay to triumph, all thanks to phone sex. The humor is outrageous and tries too hard in the beginning, but once the characters settle in, Naylor and Miller create a sweet love story between friends that just so happens to involve sex toys, dirty talk and star cameos.
Initially, the film strains under first-time director Jamie Wright’s lack of even-footing. The gags about Lauren’s breakup that kicks it off are pedestrian, as is Miller’s acting.
When we’re introduced to Katie, her “rambunctiousness” seems to be code word for “overacting.” For a while, that dreaded feeling of being stuck watching a trying-to-be-funny film looms. It doesn’t help when token gay Jesse (Justin Long, above center), prances around with a slight lisp that makes you cringe — it may even leave you a little pissed.
Eventually, though, Good Time finds its pace. When they are forced to live together, the girls discover a scheme to make real scratch from phone sex: Lauren’s business acumen and Katie’s penchant for dirty talk are perfectly mixed, and a great friendship buds. When that happens, the film goes from unfunny wannabe to a comedy knockout — and it uses a sledgehammer. The leads deliver snarky, deadpan lines with sharpshooter aim, while the characters grow from mean girls to BFFs as Miller and Gaynor show chemistry, recalling film dynamics like Outrageous Fortune or Ruthless People.
They get help with cameos by Kevin Smith as a cabbie/customer in a hilarious bit and Seth Rogen as a cocky airline pilot grossed out by no-panty-wearing women. Nia Vardalos and Superbad’s Martha MacIsaac add to a ridiculousness that lets the film get away with low-brow humor so as not to blame the leads.
If only they reined in Long. Although he doesn’t go strictly for stereotype, he still goes over-the-top as a sassy sissy. As the gay friend, Jesse is the story’s catalyst — he’s supposed to be helping his two friends, but Long plays the character with no depth and ultimately is a groan just shy of insulting. Just put a gay actor in there! Geez.
The scene between two women, two dildos and a tender moment condenses the film to its core — indeed. there may never be another movie in which the hugest of penises will be part of a character’s growth (outside of porn, of course). For a Good Time, Call… finds its pulse and learns the balance between raunchy laughs and poignant friendships. It just takes some patience to realize it.
Three stars. Opens today.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 31, 2012.