10:46 am Sep. 4, 20121
In a New York Times article published just before the release of Bridesmaids, director Paul Feig is quoted as saying: “I kept thinking, ‘If I blow this, I’m going to ruin it for these women for years and years.’”
He meant the “not A-list” stars of that movie, specifically. But there is another interpretation you can apply to that comment—a broader definition of “these women”—that is no less true for his not having intended it.
The fact is that when a movie directed by a man or written by a man or starring a man bombs at the box office, it’s because that specific movie was bad. If a “female-driven” film underperforms on opening weekend, it’s because the gender as a whole isn’t bankable. It’s one of many burdens of being in the minority: The part stands in for the whole.
This makes evaluating a movie written by and starring two women (though directed by a man, Jamie Travis) not more difficult, exactly, but certainly more fraught; the stakes seem higher. On the other hand: how condescending to grade on a curve!
Not to condescend, then: For a Good Time Call … is many things. It is: poorly paced; genuinely funny in fits and starts; blessed by the presence of Ari Graynor; forgettable; enjoyable.
The film is centered on the unlikely friendship that develops between vulgar, blonde Katie (Graynor, who, even at her most outrageous, vibrates with genuine humanity) and prim, brunette Lauren (whose blandly pained expression and demeanor for the first third of the movie set a new bar for the description “milquetoast”). Their relationship is broadly based on the friendship between co-writers Katie Anne Naylon and Lauren Anne Miller, who also plays her character.
Lauren has just been dumped by her boyfriend and fired from her job (she works in publishing, which may in part explain that permanently pinched face). Desperate for an apartment, she moves in with Katie, who is herself desperate for a roommate after the rent-control is lifted on her beautiful Gramercy two-bedroom. (The apartment used to belong to Katie’s “Bubbe”; one of the film’s smaller ironies is that the blonde girl is the Jew and the brunette is the WASP.)
The two know each other—a flashback shows a college meet not-cute: a drunken Katie pees in a cup while Lauren drives her home, with predictable results—and are brought together again by a mutual friend, Jesse (Justin Long, playing gay and snappish and clearly enjoying himself; his character owns a small dog named Zelda, which he at one point strokes, in his own words, “like a Bond villain”).
They hate each other, of course—Katie, primping, won't leave the bathroom when uptight Lauren has to pee—but when Lauren discovers, by accident, that Katie is a phone sex operator (and not, in fact, having loud sex in her room every night) a business savvy odd couple is born.
Katie has the skills and the hustle; Lauren is the one with the fiscal sense—it’s her idea to cut out the middle-man by starting their own hotline. This is also the opportunity for one of the funniest scenes in the film, as Katie riffs on different names they might give their number; they end up opting for “1-900-Mmm-Hmmm” over “1-900-Vag Bags.”
The movie is at its best in these moments, when it allows Gaynor to swan about in leopard-print caftans and teal velour belted jumpsuits, moaning “beep beep” into the phone as Lauren giggles in the background (her customer, Kevin Smith, is a cabbie enjoying a sex-from-behind fantasy—the “beep beep” is Katie “backing up”; he also turns out to have passengers).
Specific moments also ring painfully true: Katie telling a client with whom she has developed a genuine friendship, “Do not ever tell me what I said to you” (in that way, phone sex is like real sex); an unemployed Lauren tucking a voluminous nightgown into enormous sweatpants and wandering out to get a manicure.
And the moment that solidifies the pair’s friendship and (business) partnership is fascinating: Lauren, who has been apprenticing with Katie, learning how to fake orgasms and say dirty words with a relatively straight face, finally joins Katie on a call. As one woman initiates another into a variation on the so-called oldest profession in the world, their delight at collaborating, and their affection for each other—“Oh they’re so cute!” Lauren giggles when asked to describe Katie’s underwear— causes the customer, an airplane pilot played by Seth Rogan, to lose his erection.
But the layers of the scene soon collapse. As the film tries to develop a narrative arc, throwing complications like a new employee with a hidden agenda, secrets about Katie’s past, and Lauren’s disapproving parents into the girls’ path, it loses its way.
Ultimately, the emotional development of the friendship becomes a conscious but pointless parody of traditional hetero-normative rom com tropes. (Spoiler alert: only one of these girls is ready to say “I love you”!) Unlike, say, Superbad, which, for all its slapstick humor and over-the-top raunch had something oddly touching to say about the profundity of friendships between young men, or, yes, Bridesmaids, which tracked the difficulties of maintaining even the most important friendships over time with a great deal of honesty, For a Good Time Call . . . has surprisingly little to say about the experience of developing a close friendship after college.
The movie has some obvious charms. In one scene that’s both funny and subversive enough to be surprising, Lauren comes out of her room after finishing a call with a client with her face flushed and her hair mussed, and finds herself having to confess that she had an orgasm during the call.
And in this case, it's nice that the good guys win. Lauren gets offered her dream job in part because of her new phone-sex-induced confidence, and Katie is able to, by the end of the movie, have a meaningful romantic and sexual relationship with a man.
But their professional success doesn't feel either neutered or overly sexualized. The movie passes the Bechdel Test—which is when, as comic Alison Bechdel put it, the film has two women who talk to each other about something other than a man—with flying colors.
Still, the title sums up this film's limitations: it can’t offer anything more profound than a pretty good time.
More by this author:
- The youthful fantasy worlds of writer Karen Russell are growing up
- For film and television writers, an awards show awash in liquor, raunch and self-loathing brilliance