Lauren (Lauren Miller) and Katie (Ari Graynor) are total opposites. Lauren’s a proper, type-A. Katie’s a flighty party girl. They can’t stand each other, but they’re forced to live with each other or they’ll lose their fabulous apartment. Despite their differences, however, they start to bond and become best friends. They are just like Laverne and Shirley, except they talk dirty on the phone for money.
That’s the premise of For A Good Time, Call… (2012), in which lifeless Lauren is set up to live with crazy Katie by their mutual friend Jesse (Justin Long) when Lauren’s boyfriend dumps her out of their apartment and Katie will lose her great place if she can’t find a roommate. Lauren loses her job and Katie was barely scraping by in the first place with her numerous gigs, one of which is getting a dollar a minute by coaxing lonely people to orgasm over the phone. Lauren sniffs at first when she discovers this but quickly sees that Katie has a lot more earning potential if they strike out on their own. Thus 1-900-MMM-HMMM is born and the unlikely pair find friendship.
I was shocked by For A Good Time, Call… because of its language. Yes, it has a cavalcade of four–letter words and continues a trend in comedy of girls outraunching their male counterparts, but what shocked me wasn’t the words or who was saying them, but what order they were in and how unbelievable they sounded coming out of people’s mouths. This is the type of movie where people greet each other by saying, “This is your pathetic twenty-nine-year-old intern friend.” Tell me, do you often talk to your friends by defining yourself for the audience? Everyone here is the most basic of types: buttoned-up know-it-all, train–wreck wild child, gay best friend, boring boyfriend choice A, interesting quirky boyfriend choice B. The script is by the books which is bad enough, except it starts with a premise that is naturally depraved. Now that’s fine if the movie wants to commit to that, but when a romance requires genuine feeling in the end and the movie feels obligated to provide it, we can’t go from a place of immorality to a place of emotional authenticity without feeling like a step has been missed. It’s like putting the boys from Animal House (1979) on the same trajectory as the ladies of Fried Green Tomatoes (1991). It becomes trash in fairy-tale clothing.
I have no doubt that phone sex has the potential for comedy, but the movie tested my resolve. The premise is fairly thin—so much so that the movie has to invent sequences and repeat others just to get to an acceptable running time. I’m thinking of two surprise visits from Lauren’s prudish parents that could easily have been one, two different success montages, and a secret Christian saboteur at 1-900-MMM-HMMM that must have spent a lot of time preparing to save a small amount of souls. The funniest bits are with the sad customers, particularly a quite self-aware one played by Seth Rogan, who wants to have strangers talk dirty to him over the phone but is nonplussed when one says she’s wearing no underwear because that’s unsanitary. Much of the comedy doesn’t land, but it’s not half as unbearable as the romance and the crisis that threatens the pair’s friendship. The love subplot is extraneous and a little weird as Katie falls for a client who calls the line, gets what he called for, and then strikes up a conversation about his short films. The real couple in the movie is Lauren and Katie, and the reason the movie creates to divide them is perhaps the weakest, most shoe-horned, most half-baked I’ve ever seen.
For A Good Time, Call… reminded me of Bachelorette (2012), another female raunch fest, both because it wanted to excel at two things at once and ended up failing at both, and because I liked the people involved and wished they were in better movies. Graynor is a great comic talent who has much of the appeal of Kate Hudson. Miller, who I’m less impressed to reveal co-wrote the script, is a good foil, which is no easy task. Long is essentially used as a means to further the plot, but he punctuates all his scenes even if his character as the gay best friend is outdated by about a decade. Whenever I see gay best friends in movies like this, I think of Mickey Rooney’s “Asian” neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) because I feel like a generation from now the filmmakers are going to be embarrassed they included such a character. I have no doubt that women have male best friends and some of them are gay, but this type of character exists only to propel the story and represent a non-romantic male presence. I imagine it would be easy to be best friends with someone who has no other purpose than to listen to your problems and give you sassy encouragement. That’s why so many people love dogs. For a better time, go see a different movie.