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Lose your hang-ups. Find your calling.
In the wake of Bridesmaids comes a female buddy comedy that's not produced by Judd Apatow, even though it might as well be.
Facts of the Case
Lauren (Lauren Miller, 50/50) has just been dumped by her douchebag boyfriend and fired from her job. With nowhere to live, she's set up by a friend (Justin Long in another performance that seems to think it's funnier than it is) to live with Katie (Ari Graynor, What's Your Number?), a free spirit who Lauren hated back in college. They struggle to get along (a regular ODD COUPLE!) until Lauren discovers that one of Katie's many jobs is as a phone sex operator. Before long, Lauren has taken over and the pair begin running their own phone sex line out of their New York apartment. Hilarity, romance and self-discovery ensue.
There are so few movies made about female friendships that we have to appreciate a movie like the 2012 comedy For a Good Time Call… for at least doing that much right. It's unfortunate that so much of the movie is devoted to juvenile sex talk and mostly shallow observations about life and relationships, because those things step on what might otherwise be a very enjoyable buddy comedy.
The temptation is to accuse the film's two screenwriters, Lauren Miller and her real-life friend Katie Anne Naylon, to pile on the raunch and vulgarity so they can be more like "one of the guys," as though sex talk is purely boys' business. But trying to close the gender gap with statements like that only exposes more sexism. The problem isn't that Miller and Naylon are women and therefore shouldn't traffic so much in raunch. The problem is that they haven't yet figured out how to make that raunch funny. The phone sex aspect of For a Good time Call… is one of the weakest things about the movie because the movie isn't really interesting in being what it's about. There's the hook—two friends start a phone sex line—and that's about as deep as it gets. The movie isn't interested in exploring ideas of what women can be forced to do because of the economic collapse, nor is it about women exploiting something marketable because they know that men can be dummies and driven by base instincts. It just sets up a girl who is kind of square and introduces her into a world in which she has to be uninhibited, and two friends who learn from one another. And would you believe that the square friend discovers she enjoys cutting loose, and that the free spirit reveals that it's all a bit of a put on? No? You have never seen a movie.
The reveals are obvious and trite. A small romance is developed between two of the characters that's sweet enough, but makes very little sense. The inevitable disagreement that splits up the new friends is forced, as it so often is. For the most part, the movie avoids the convention of playing a platonic friendship like it's a romance for laughs—until the final few minutes, of course, when it gets completely ridiculous and plays a reunion not just as though it's a romance but like a sex act. I guess that's the movie's idea of we should be laughing at: characters who talk like they are having sex even though they are not. It's all just so simple-minded, and there's enough to like about the movie that moments like this make it that much more frustrating. Be better, movie.
Writer/co-star Lauren Miller might best be known as the wife of comedy superstar Seth Rogen, which helps explain a) why she shares a similar affection for incredibly blue dialogue treated as everyday conversation and b) how she was able to convince Rogen, Kevin Smith (who directed Rogen in Zack and Miri Make a Porno) and Ken Marino in brief but mostly unfunny cameos as callers to the phone sex line. While her script has the emotional depth of a sitcom, she's an engaging comic actress, and the performances of her and Ari Graynor are what make For a Good Time Call… worth seeing. Graynor, in particular, is such a force of nature—a terrific comedian with undeniable physical presence—and so few movies have known what to do with her. She's made a career thus far out of playing "the friend" or "the sister," so it's nice to see her finally get to take center stage in a comedy.
Universal's Blu-ray of For a Good Time Call… contains two different versions of the movie, because such is the way with just about all comedies (and horror movies) when they get to home video. The R-rated theatrical cut runs 85 minutes, while the "unrated" version runs three minutes longer; I can't speak to the differences between the two, having watched only the unrated cut, but I suspect there's just some additional raunchy dialogue in the longer version. The movie is presented in a very bright, very colorful full 1080p HD transfer in the movie's original 2.35:1 widescreen format. It's a very nice image, with a carefully designed mise en scene that makes the movie feel so much bouncier and more fun than it sometimes is. I loved the look of the film even when I didn't always love the film. The lossless 5.1 audio track works with the dialogue—and the movie is basically all dialogue—while occasionally kicking in with the songs on the soundtrack. It's perfectly acceptable and generally problem-free, but not exactly reference material. Small, modest movies like this never are.
The bonus selection is small but decent, headlined by a quick and reasonably fun commentary track with director Jamie Travis, stars Miller and Graynor and co-writer Katie Anne Naylon. There are a handful of deleted scenes which are enjoyable enough on their own, but would have added little to the overall cumulative effect of the movie, as well as a standard production featurette in which everyone talks about how much fun they had making the movie. Also included is a standard definition DVD copy of the movie, as well as a digital copy so you can watch For a Good Time Call… on your computer, tablet or mobile device. You never know when the urge is going to strike.
I was really pulling for For a Good Time Call… The two leads are good and the film looks beautiful—sunny and bright and candy-colored. But it says very little about female friendships or sex, despite devoting almost the entirety of its running time to both topics. It goes by quickly and makes for an easy watch, so it might be worth a look on cable one night. And if it turns Lauren Lee Miller and (especially) Ari Graynor into bigger stars, it will all be worth it.
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