For a Good Time, Call… exemplifies yet again why female-driven raunchy comedies tend to work better than those that are male-driven. If you think about last year’s Bridesmaids, you might realize that it wasn’t only about housewives graphically describing their sexual habits or Melissa McCarthy uncontrollably defecating into a bathroom sink; it was also about its story and its characters, both undeniably crude and yet far from one-dimensional. We could willingly invest in the film on an emotional level, despite the overwhelming vulgarities. For a Good Time, Call… follows in this tradition, aiming to be as filthy and as sweet as possible. In the midst of excruciating sexual frankness and scores of four-letter words, we witness the development of a friendship and the beginning stages of a romance. We’re actually made to care about what we’re watching.
The plot centers on New Yorkers Lauren Powell (Lauren Anne Miller, also one of the writers) and Katie Steele (Ari Graynor). Their relationship in college ten years earlier was acrimonious at best; a brief flashback sequence shows a drunken Katie accidentally spilling a cup full of her own urine all over Lauren during a car ride. To this day, the two have absolutely nothing in common. If appearances are any indication, then Katie is shockingly promiscuous. Compare this to Lauren, who’s far more straight-laced. It’s a classic odd-couple scenario, their situations forcing them into becoming roommates. Katie is no longer able to pay the rent on her apartment, which was owned by her grandmother, now deceased. Lauren, having been abandoned by her arrogant and unendurably boring boyfriend (James Wolk) for a job in Italy, realizes that she has nowhere to live. Adding insult to injury, she has just been fired.
The two are paired by their mutual friend, the loveably sassy Jesse (Justin Long), who works with Katie at a nail salon. Initially, the animosity between Katie and Lauren lingers, and it only worsens when Lauren discovers that Katie has a second job as a phone sex operator. Things gradually start to change when a stuffy executive (Nia Vardalos) denies Lauren an editorial position at a publishing house; Katie is encouraged to quit the sex hotline she works for, which takes most of her earnings, and go into business for herself on a landline. Lauren would handle the billing. She stresses, rather emphatically, that she will never, ever become an operator like Katie, believing herself to be above that. She also makes it clear that she will do this only for their scheduled summer-long living arrangement. Katie agrees. And with that, 1 (900) MMM-HMMM is born.
Oh yes, the phone calls are every bit as raunchy as you’re imagining them to be. “Colorful” is not a strong enough word to describe the language that’s used; with gratuitous references to intercourse, genitals, masturbation, ejaculation, and orgasms, this is the kind of talk that would make even the foulest of foulmouths blush in embarrassment. This is true not just of Katie, but of her clients as well. Two of them are Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen making cameo appearances. The former plays a cabbie – with his fare in the back seat, no less – and the latter plays an airline pilot taking a break in the terminal restroom. Eventually, it also becomes true of Lauren, who realizes she doesn’t want to be the same old boring person anymore. Katie trains her in the ways of phone sex, going so far as to make demonstrations with word diagrams and sex toys.
As business booms, so too does Katie and Lauren’s friendship. This isn’t to suggest that it’s smooth sailing until the end of the movie. There’s an emotional process at work, one that isn’t normally associated with vulgar sex comedies, especially the ones starring men. In a surprisingly sweet subplot, Katie has grown close with one of her clients, a young man named Sean (Mark Webber), and the two decide to start dating; their one shot at a successful relationship is hampered by a secret one of them is keeping. Meanwhile, as Lauren struggles to keep her new profession hidden from her wealthy parents (Mimi Rogers and Don McManus), she’s once again offered the editorial position at the publishing house and is tempted into accepting it. Needless to say, all this will threaten their newfound friendship.
The most astounding thing happened during a scene where Lauren utters, “I love you,” to Katie. A group of young men in the audience, probably in their twenties, started laughing. I think I know why they did this: They interpreted the line as a homoerotic gag. They were probably used to guy-oriented sex comedies, where such words are typically intended to sound or be overtly gay. How interesting that the women in the audience remained silent. Could it be that they had a better understanding of love, that they recognized it as a multifaceted concept not limited to physical attraction? For a Good Time, Call… is not a perfect film – certain characters are underutilized, and the subplot featuring Lauren’s parents remains unresolved – but it certainly is much better than certain audiences will give it credit for.
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