Given the success of the female-centric mega hit Bridesmaids, it was only a matter of time before we got a slew of girls-behaving-naughty R-rated sex comedies. Enter the phone sex comedy For a Good Time, Call, which has the distinction of being co-written by Seth Rogen’s real-life wife, Lauren Miller, who also stars in the film. It advertises a good time and mostly delivers, though you might not think as much about the movie in the cold light of day.
Lauren (Miller) has just been dumped by her self-involved boyfriend and fired from her job. She’s looking for a new place to live when a mutual friend sets her up with a huge New York City apartment. The catch: her roommate is Katie (Ari Graynor), an acquaintance from college she has despised ever since a very horrifying party foul of seismic proportions. Katie’s going to lose her posh home unless she gets a roommate, so the women reach a mutual understanding. Then one day, listening to Katie’s hyperactive sexual noises, Lauren discovers how her roommate really pays the bills. She’s been running a phone sex line and getting guys off for $3.99 a minute. Lauren decides to get involved in the business end, and before long the ladies have become a professional outlet and roll in their riches. Invigorated, Lauren starts experimenting herself, letting her freak flag fly, and before long she’s also getting in on the calls.
Graynor is no stranger to stealing a movie, as she did perfectly in the sweetly unassuming 2008 teen romance, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. This girl has had the markings of a star for years and finally she’s found the vehicle to showcase her comedic vivaciousness. To say Graynor makes this movie is an understatement to her talents. Graynor is this movie’s pulse, its lifeblood, its font of energy, its wickedness, its exuberance, its very soul. This woman is amazing. She can take a simple line and with an effortless dose of comedic verve, it can become a gut-buster. I could watch twelve movies in a row with Graynor playing at this level of exciting excellence. The part is pretty familiar, the dirty girl who has problem with a filter, but Graynor makes the most of every opportunity. I loved her adorable theatricality, like a foxy, younger, brassy Bette Midler (God, did I ever think I’d string those words together?). I loved her enthusiastic hip shake, wearing large body stockings, while singing, “I’m ready to beat date rape!” Naturally, Katie gets all the best lines but her interplay with Lauren also works well. When the movie focuses on Lauren, and by extension the unremarkable performance by Miller, you start to feel things slag. Lauren is passive becoming active, but really even by the end she can still be cited as boring. Katie is active, hungry, brash, charming, and wonderfully portrayed by Graynor, and when she dominates, you’ll ask for more.
Except for the lively theatrics from Graynor, the movie can often feel hung up on generic sitcom plot devices and character generalities. The premise itself is perfectly fine, but the movie seems to exist in some randy fantasy world. We still have a main character in the world of publishing that will obviously be offered the Big Job at an inopportune personal time (as movies have shown, every human being on the planet either works in publishing, advertising, or theater). And then there’s the Bad Boyfriend, who breaks up with our heroine in the opening moments of the movie because they are “boring” together. Any guesses whether he shows up late as well, begging her back? I’d probably be more forgiving of these contrived plot turns if the movie did more to present Lauren and Katie as real characters. As written, they are pigeonholed into opposites (prude/wild woman) and rarely do we learn more about them. Lauren loosens up, Katie gains some self-respect, and they girls becomes BFFs. That development I found rather unconvincing, probably because there was little development. All of a sudden Lauren has an interest in joining the business, and one montage later, the girls have buried the hatchet. It feels like everything changed overnight. The attempts to ladle in some forced sweetness feels, in some regards, more crass than the sex jokes. I’ll credit the movie for keeping me amused while watching, but upon further reflection, the girls and their relationship feels rather slapdash and rote.
The comedy itself gets too easily complacent with all those naughty words bandied about. Oh sure there’s plenty of effective jokes about sexually frank conversations, and the inherently awkward nature of phone sex mechanics, but For A Good Time, Call seems too easily satisfied. I wish that Miller and co-writer Katie Anne Naylor had pushed their comedic setups further, had taken a few more left turns rather than settling for the familiar sex gag. Here’s an example: Lauren’s prissy parents make an unexpected visit and the girls have to hide their business particulars. That’s a fine starting point, but where else does it go? The comic tension is too easily resolved instead of escalated. Then, surprise, the parents make a SECOND unexpected visit. This time the sex decorations are prominently displayed. We’re waiting for some good comedic tension, some squirming, but again, it’s over before the good stuff can even get going (am I right, ladies?). The Justin Long (Going the Distance) flamboyantly gay friend is never as funny as the movie thinks he is. There’s a scene where Lauren is interrupted while masturbating, but we only realize after the fact when the joke is already over. Why introduce such a scenario if you were just going to settle for a weak “smelly finger” joke? Perhaps I would find the material funnier if I was a woman, relating more to the female dynamic on screen, but do you see how condescending that line of thinking gets? I unabashedly adored Bridesmaids (my #3 film of that year). I don’t think anyone needs to grade a comedy on a curve for any reason, especially if they think they’re trying to be polite.
I’m not going to make more or less of its sexual politics than what is presented. I think there is genuine merit when women take ownership of their sexuality. Why should women feel judged for wanting equality when bedroom activities and impulses are concerned? Whatever helps people build a healthy self-image should be championed, as long as it’s between consenting adults. Watching Katie and Lauren personally grow based upon their unique entrepreneurship is welcomed. However, I can’t help but shake my feelings that there is something lurking, some deeper sub current that is not worth celebrating because the movie seems to play into male fantasy. Even though I adored Graynor, I think it would have served the film better if the more sexually-liberated character, the pro when it comes to working the phones, was actually a less attractive woman, perhaps a mousy gal you’d never expect such lurid behavior from. I think that would offer more comedic potential as well. I think this would also puncture some of the airbrushed fantasy of the film’s cheescake world of a phone sex line.
I have my complaints but I was laughing fairly regularly and enjoyed the experience, so if you’re just looking for a good time at the movies you can consider For A Good Time, Call. Watching Graynor sink her teeth into her role and go full gusto is a rowdy pleasure, and it’s easy to see that this woman is a star. The smutty jokes are fun and offer plenty of ribald laughs, but I always felt like the movie was too complacent, too settled, and curiously clumsy when it came to comic payoffs. The film is pretty flatly directed by Jamie Travis. The characters are pretty thin, and the plot feels ripped from a flimsy TV sitcom, but I laughed aplenty and found the movie difficult to dislike. It’s not the most nuanced sex comedy, or the most ribald, but For a Good Time, Call delivers enough big jokes and Graynor is too sensational to miss.
Nate’s Grade: B
Tacky on nearly all fronts, this Big Fat Greek Wedding wannabe sequel features that hit movie’s star, Nia Vardalos, and plops her in Greece as an unhappy, uptight, undersexed tour guide. The movie follows her exploits to regain her “kefi,” Greek for “mojo.” My Life in Ruins paints in obnoxious broad strokes with its bus of fools, making sure the Australian tourists are never without a can of Fosters in their hand. The stereotypes are plentiful. The lame jokes are easily telegraphed and usually lowbrow (the bus driver’s name is “Poupi Kakas”), the acting is hammy, and the stabs of drama thanks to Richard Dreyfuss as a traveling widower feel alien. Being a romantic comedy replete with stock characters, naturally everything is predictable. Vardalos does a credible job here trying to hold this mess together, though she’s too prone to going for funny faces as a saving grace. Twice characters tell her that she’s not funny, and to this the audience will easily agree. I am dumbfounded that longtime Simpsons writer Mike Reiss wrote this crap. The only real enjoyment you’ll receive from this movie is marveling at all the fabulous Greek sights, from the ancient ruins to the seaside villas. I understand why the cast and crew would sign up to film this movie in Greece, but does that mean I have to subsidize their vacation with my own money? No thank you.
Nate’s Grade: C
Toula Portokalos (Nia Vardalos) opens by telling us that as a Greek woman she has three responsibilities, “1) Marry a Greek boy. 2) Have lots of Greek children. 3) Make lots of food.” Toula works in her family’s restaurant letting life pass her by, while her father pleads with her to get married even though she is already “old” at 30. It doesn’t seem like that day will ever come for Toula, nor is she looking forward to it, until a handsome stranger (John Corbett, Aidan from Sex and the City) catches her eye in the restaurant. Through more encounters the two seem to have sparks flying off from the heat they generate. He pops the question and Toula happily says yes. There’s only one slight problem – he’s not Greek.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding isn’t anything provocative or innovative but it does have its charming moments and engaging humor. These “ethnic family comedies” are really a double edged sword to work with. You see, they will exaggerate the cultural eccentric-ness of the characters to the point of gross parody but then rely on them to become endearing lovable characters who the audience appreciates for the very same reasons it’s laughing at them. And while Greek Wedding can be found guilty of this notion as well it really does take someone from the inside to come up with this stuff, so there must be some love there to start with.
Vardalos, who also wrote the script, is a perfect casting choice exactly because of her everyday looks. This isn’t someone like Jennifer Aniston trying to pull off being poor and un-pretty; this is a normal looking gal pulling off normal. It works exceptionally and Vardalos certainly knows how to hit a joke. The supporting cast of goofy yet lovable Greeks is played with admirable gusto by the many assembled players. A favorite of mine is the elderly grandmother who continues to try and escape from their home. And yes, an N’SYNC member is in this movie. Why I will never know. Is he even Greek? Is “Fatone” a Greek name?
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a big helping of family comedy and easy to see why it’s become as crowd pleasing as it is. It’s nothing new or extravagant, but hey, I’d easily go see this again than ever venture close to a theater showing XXX or Blue Crush or Pluto Nash or The Master of Disguise or…
Nate’s Grade: B