For a Good Time Call looks like a cookie cutter friendship movie with lots of sugary sweetness and learning but very quickly reveals itself to be quite a bit more…if not as much more as I would have liked.
After going through one of the most awkward on-screen break ups ever, followed almost immediately by being laid off from her job, Lauren (Lauren Miller) finds herself in need of a new place to live and pretty quickly. Her friend Jesse (Justin Long) has a friend who is facing eviction if she doesn’t find a roommate so he puts he two together. When Lauren shows up and sees the friend is Katie (Ari Graynor), the friend Jesse talked Lauren in to taking home after a party years earlier and who inadvertently spilled a plastic cup full of fresh pee all over Lauren’s head, she is obviously not too keen on the place. Still, desperation leads to strange bedfellows and the two move in together and settle in to an odd couple situation until Lauren catches Katie doing her night job as a phone sex worker. One thing leads to another and the two go into business for themselves on their own phone sex line and hilarity ensues.
Recapping the plot, the movie sounds kind of bad. It sounds kind of cliche and obvious and it certainly has its obligatory moments of genre service but great writing, pacing and performances can make a trite sounding premise awesome and that is what happens here. Even while serving the well worn floorboards of the friendship comedy where they hate each other, like each other, betray each other at the end of the second act and then love each other again in the third act, For a Good Time Call rises above convention to deliver refreshingly funny material delivered in a bold way. There are some easy jokes but there are many more that are very sharp, challenging and on point.
With material like this I think the natural desire for a studio is to produce a movie that flirts a bit with risque material and but backs away enough to make it safe for a PG-13 audience. It is kind of a surprise when the movie doesn’t do that at all and sort of goes the opposite way by completely embracing the raunch and vulgarity and finding it’s comedy there. The miracle then becomes that the film’s vulgarity doesn’t feel like it is pandering to the audience but rather a natural extension of the material.
A lot of the credit falls to the writing here which is clever, funny and organic all at the same time, at least as far as the dialogue is concerned. Miller co-wrote the script with Katie Anne Naylon and the dialogue feels very authentic and natural while not sounding scripted. This is kind of like if you took HBO’s Girls and removed the hipster vibe and made it about phone sex. This authenticity extends to the characters themselves as it would be easy to just make fun of the line’s clients, which the movie does gently and to great effect, but there is more exploration into why a person calls such a line and why a person would do that work. We aren’t getting Paul Thomas Anderson level character study here but the movie pays more service and respect to the characters than one would expect. Having at one time dated a phone sex operator, I can vouch for at least the surface level of authenticity here.
The performances go a long way to sell the story as well as leads Miller and Graynor inhabit their characters without shame or hesitation. They allow these girls to be real people and not templates to serve the story. Part of this likely goes back to Miller having co-written the film but Graynor deserves a lot of credit too for making a character who is very unlikeable one the surface feel much more three dimensional. Justin Long turns in a terrific performance as Jesse and absolutely elevates every scene he is in. I have been fond of Long for quite some time and he continues to shine in pretty much everything he is in. He isn’t in this movie a ton but his performance is always effective when he is. Mark Webber does a great job as Katie’s love interest Sean and gives us an understated performance that lets you buy into his character and James Wolk is terrifically douchey as Lauren’s ex Charlie.
As good as the main performances are, there are a hand full of cameos that really steal the show. They are all typically caller roles but each are hilarious in their own way. Seth Rogen’s pilot character can be seen in the trailer but his scene goes on much longer than that snippet and is great. Ken Marino is equally good as the girls’ account and client but the real stand out is a caller played by Kevin Smith. It might take a minute to realize it is actually him but it is terrific. His scene is almost worth the price of admission on its own.
Everything isn’t roses for the movie though. As bold as it is with its humor and language, For a Good Time Call is awfully pedestrian when it comes to the actual story arc. It follows such well worn tropes that it is almost impossible not to guess the outcome of the major story beats well in advance of them happening. It is too bad because a movie this smart shouldn’t be a movie this lazy when it comes to story. A bit of polish and some left turns instead of right ones and the story could have been just as sharp as the dialogue. It is possible that they wanted to do a conventional story and turn it on its head with content and that is fine but that didn’t land with me very well and I feel like it sold itself short of its potential. Still, if it is the trip that is more important than the destination, this is great ride.
Conclusion [8.0 out of 10]
Despite its story issues, I felt like For a Good Time Call was refreshingly funny and sharp. It is not for everyone as if you are offended by language and overt sexuality you are not going to care for what this movie has to offer. If you like adult comedies, however, you are in good hands with this film. I am really excited to see what is next for these writers and I hope this signals a long and healthy career for them as we need more female voices in comedy like this. This is also sturdier date movie fare than most because it has plenty to keep even initially disinterested boyfriends engaged. Check it out.