Times have certainly changed. In the late fifties a telephone answering service, misused to take bets on horse racing, served as the linchpin for comedy in “Bells Are Ringing.” Now, it’s a phone sex business. Still, though its premise might raise some eyebrows, “For a Good Time, Call…” is more genial than sleazy, more about female empowerment than exploitation. And though sitcomish and raunchy, it’s good-natured and generally harmless by today’s admittedly low comic standards.
The premise is the old “odd couple” one about dissimilar characters forced to live together. One is Lauren (Lauren Anne Miller, who also co-wrote the script with Katie Anne Nayton), a quiet, reserved type whose long-time boyfriend callously announces that he’s moving to Europe and that they’re splitting up, so she has to pack up and scram. The other is gregarious, pushy Katie (Ari Graynor), who’s told the apartment she was bequeathed by her late grandmother no longer carries the rent-control status she needs to afford it. Though the two had a major tiff in college—a rather gross episode shown in flashback, with the actresses unconvincingly playing younger versions of themselves—their common friend, ostentatiously gay Jesse (Justin Long) persuades them that they should at least try to overcome their differences and share Katie’s place to avoid winding up on the street.
The women initially don’t hit it off, and when Lauren loses her job their situation becomes even more precarious. But when she learns that Katie supplements her income by working for a phone-sex line, Lauren suggests that with her technical expertise she can help set up her roommate as an independent operator. The scheme works beautifully, and before long the business is bringing in such big bucks that the girls take on an employee (Sugar Lyn Beard) who at first seems perfectly suited to take some of the calls. But when she doesn’t work out—in a twist that’s predictable but still pretty funny—Lauren decides to take up the receiver herself, and proves surprisingly adept at the job. Brief scenes in which Seth Rogen, Kevin Smith and Ken Marino make cameos as customers at the other end of the telephone line are raunchy in the naughty way the target female audience will giggle at and blush over without being inordinately offended.
The picture does, however, go off in very predictable directions. Lauren’s straitlaced parents (Mimi Rogers and Don McManus) show up at inconvenient times to visit. And her application for a job at a prestigious publishing house (at which Nia Vardalos plays the head of personnel) threatens to come through at just the wrong time. Meanwhile Katie finds herself getting familiar with one of her nice-guy clients (Mark Webber), and eventually agrees to meet him for real—with the proper precautions, as Lauren insists.
Of course, formula dictates that the last act should bring a serious disagreement between the partners, and to complicate matters further Lauren’s supremely shallow ex-boyfriend returns with an offer he presumes she won’t refuse. But rest assured that the sorority of independent women will prevail and prove loyal to one another.
This isn’t the most imaginative material in the world, and though the nimble cast works hard to make it as agreeable as it can be, with Graynor’s exuberance matching up well with Miller’s primness and Long obviously relishing the chance to do the gay routine, the movie never transcends the basic formula. And it’s obviously an indie venture, technically on the meager side, with cinematography by James Laxton that’s no more than serviceable. It’s especially disappointing that the direction by Jamie Travis, whose short films have exhibited a distinctive style, doesn’t give it any particular visual pizzazz, though he endows the individual scenes with a generalized perkiness. But while it may not provide the really good time the title suggests, at least the picture isn’t as gross and feeble as it might have been.