There's an undeniable early-'90s feel to Jamie Travis' likable comedy For a Good Time, Call…, even though it was released in 2012. The premise -- that two friends would start a successful phone-sex line -- seems thoroughly anachronistic in an age when seemingly all adult-oriented content is consumed on the Internet. On top of that, the barrage of dialogue this movie throws at you, chock-full of sardonic quips, offhand sexual details, and emotional frankness, recalls Gen X low-budget indies like Clerks or Walking and Talking. Fortunately, once it gets past its by-the-numbers setup, For a Good Time, Call… earns a place among those era-defining favorites.
Co-writer and star Lauren Miller plays Lauren, an ambitious type-A personality who dreams of writing for an influential New York City magazine. She's planned out her life to achieve this goal, but in the movie's opening scene she gets dumped by her boyfriend, an event that will soon leave her homeless and jobless in the Big Apple. Ari Graynor plays Katie, a heavy-drinking party girl in need of a roommate after her beloved grandmother passes away, leaving her without the resources to cover her monthly rent. This odd couple is brought together by their mutual gay friend Jesse (Justin Long).
They hate each other at first, of course, but agree to live together out of necessity. One night, Lauren overhears Katie talking dirty on the phone, and Katie confesses that she picks up some extra money working as a phone-sex operator. After Lauren runs out of work options, she presents Katie with a plan for a phone-sex business and the two become partners, which quickly blossoms into a genuine and deeply felt friendship between the two polar opposites.
Ari Graynor chews the scenery in the best possible way as the extroverted Katie; she knows she has the best lines and relishes every word. It may sound woefully sexist, but it's tempting to describe her character as a dame or a broad -- like a twentysomething Chelsea Handler. Graynor is so good at being brassy and obnoxious that after the first 20 minutes of the movie you're as likely to be laughing at the character as you are hoping you never have to spend another minute around her. However, slowly but surely, Graynor allows hints of vulnerability and sweetness to shine through, and by the time we see Katie nervously anticipating an actual, in-the-flesh date with a regular caller she's starting to fall in love with, we're surprised how much we care about her. This is the kind of performance that gets an actor plenty of gigs.
The screenplay by Miller and Katie Anne Naylon is peppered with one-liners that aren't always as witty as they'd like to be, but the duds never make us tune out of the film, and the pair have done a fine job of imbuing these seemingly two-dimensional stock characters with enough specificity that we buy into their friendship. Cameos from Kevin Smith, The State's Ken Marino, and Miller's real-life husband Seth Rogen as callers to the gals' service all get giant belly laughs, particularly Rogen as an airline pilot trying to get a few moments of pleasure just before he has to board a plane.
For such a dialogue-heavy movie, For a Good Time, Call… knows not to overstay its welcome. Clocking in at less than 90 minutes, the film concludes with a witty chat between the two leads that slyly parodies what these two have been doing and lets the audience enjoy a genuine feel-good moment. The whole thing turns out to be a promising first feature for Travis, and a perfect coming-out party for Graynor and Miller.