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For a Good Time, Call...
How do I start? Do I even start? I've never done this before. I mean, not like this. I'm usually...it's usually a solo thing you know. But it's getting tiresome, this lonely screaming into the night about how bad some movies are. That's why I thought, "Why not call a hotline? They have a hotline for that, right?"
So, yeah. Should I tell you what I like in a comedy? I like it witty, and a little dark, and yeah, if it's got romance, then hopeful, too. But if you're going to be adult, then be adult, you know. I mean, be smart. Dirty is one thing. I like it dirty. But they also call it "mature" for a reason, if that makes sense.
Is this where I give the punchline? Do I let loose when I'm ready? See, because I'm always ready. The film should be ready, too. Like that movie I just saw, For a Good Time, Call.... You could tell they were ready. They were practically shivering and foaming at the mouth to let the jokes fly. Or so I thought, but then, I don't know. It was like I could tell they were faking, you know? Like they meant it, but they didn't know how to make it happen. As a viewer, I called their bluff. "You don't know how to make this funny. You can't just shout and jump around and make noises. You have to have jokes. And heart."
You've heard of this movie, right? For a Good Time, Call... is that one with Ari Graynor, whom I really like. She was in Whip It and Youth in Revolt and she has a killer supporting role in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. She's finally got a starring role this time around, and you can tell, she's eager not to screw it up. She doesn't hold back as Katie, an outgoing girl making her way in New York City. She's supposed to be a writer and she has four jobs, but none of them are writing. One of them is as a phone sex operator, and that's the important one. Hey, she's a lady writer in New York. Do you think they ever tried to call this Phone Sex and the City?
Yeah, that's terrible. Anyway. Back in college Katie peed in a cup and then she spilled it on this uptight girl named Lauren (Lauren Miller, who co-wrote the script with Katie Anne Naylon; it took two of them to come up with the names of the main characters). Jump ahead several years, and their way-gay mutual friend Jesse--who is played by that Mac computer guy Justin Long, who knows if you want people to think you're gay you make lots of emphatic hand gestures and add even more emphasis on the ends of sentences, like hellooooo. Whatever, this guy knows that they are both in need of a roommate, so he puts the two of them together and pushes them to get past their hang-ups (heh-heh, get it?). Which they do. Lauren becomes Katie's business manager and the phone sex thing takes off and Lauren even gets on the phone. Katie teaches her to loosen up and Lauren teaches Katie to be more down to earth and, you know, be okay with feeling stuff.
There's basically two things going on in For a Good Time, Call.... One is the raunchy sex talk. There's a lot of it. Some of it is creative and gross in a good way, and they make sure not to make it smutty weird by making sure it's clear the girls think it's really funny that these guys pay them to talk about this stuff. There's cameos by dudes like Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen as the callers, and those end up being just digressions and not very clever. In fact, the more skits Miller and Naylon cook up for For a Good Time, Call..., the more of a mess the movie seems. Like the one with the "undercover agent of the Lord." What's that in there for?
But, okay, the dirty stuff is fine, because from such things a friendship is supposed to grow. Except they make it this strange romance kind of thing, like the girls are falling in love while they have fake sex with all these guys on the phone and they just don't know it. They become a couple, and they fight like a couple. "Why did you act like a child!" "Why did you lie to me!" "Grrrr!" It doesn't work at all. It's just odd, and you can't really understand why Justin Long only makes like two jokes about them being lesbians because, it's clear. If this were a movie about two dudes I'd be making "bromance" jokes all over the place. Like I haven't seen The Expendables 2 but I'm betting there's a ton of moments where I'd be all, "You two guys, just kiss and get it over with. Any of you two. I don't care. We know what Hollywood is like!"
It's not just a fault of the writing that this girl romance thing flounders. It's also a mismatch of actors. Ari Graynor, again, great. A spitfire. Except she's overdoing it, she's like that annoying girl in your high school who wants to be the lead in the play and the class president and just really popular, so she does everything she can to get noticed. It's a noble effort, Graynor is trying to balance out for Lauren Miller, who is positively wooden. And not just when her character Lauren is supposed to have a stick up her butt, but even after. It's like, okay, so that tree trunk has been replaced by a sapling, you bend in the breeze now, but you're not much of a comedian, nor are you much of an emotional communicator. If you want to see how to do that, watch that subplot over there, the one where Ari Graynor falls for Mark Webber from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Their relationship is sweet and they are really good and relaxed together. That should be more of the focus. Make your movie about when Katie says "I love you" to him, not when she says it to Lauren, and then the Lauren career stuff will have it's own thing, too. Fixed!
Does any of that make sense? I feel like you're just letting me talk because you get paid by the word. I need some help here, because I'm just so bored with writing about boring movies. Is there anything you can do to help? Any advice to give? Hello?
Ah, screw it, I'm just going to go watch Bachelorette again. It's not perfect, but at least it's funny.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.