Film Reviews

For a Good Time, Call...: The Great Phone Sex Comedy

Remember way back when Bridesmaids was released, and Manohla Dargis referred to it as "unexpectedly funny"? (It's amazing what still survives the editorial gauntlet at The New York Times). And then a couple of months ago, podcast host Adam Carolla cast his douchey feelings into words regarding women's inferior capacity for hilarity, despite the fact that in the Venn diagram of comedy, even antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis intersects the set of "Things Funnier Than Adam Carolla." That's just basic math.

The sweet, funny For a Good Time, Call . . . (directed by Jamie Travis) goes a long way toward putting this particular dumbass manifestation of the P versus V argument to bed, and then it douses the bed in gasoline and sets it on fire. Here's a platonic comedy draped over the armature of a romantic comedy, a funny dude-bro movie in which the funny dude-bros are women. You do have to get past the high-concept premise: Lauren (Lauren Anne Miller) and Katie (Ari Graynor), two young New York women with a long-standing mutual loathing, are forced to share an apartment and form a tight friendship after starting up their own phone sex service. C'mon, it isn't any unlikelier than the plot of The Hangover, and the script, by Miller and co-writer Katie Anne Naylon, is, like, 10 times smarter, funnier, and way less woman-hatey.

Sure, there's a proliferation of dildos, splooge jokes, and simulated orgasms, but this actually is a vehicle for genuine sweetness and depth of character, and the film's beats are deliberately matched with those of standard boy-meets-girl stories. But instead of romantic love, the whole metaphor-for-human-actualization thing is discovering your best bud. Despite the plot contrivances, the genuineness of the characters and the chemistry between Graynor and Miller lend plausibility, or at least a plausibility-like froth.

After establishing a sort of Odd Couple-ish character dynamic, the script cleverly subverts it. Lauren — possessed of business acumen and grounded in practicality — and Katie — a spontaneous and uninhibited generator of creative ideas — each have qualities the other lacks. Inverting this attraction-of-opposites convention, both characters reveal surprising talents and hidden weaknesses: It turns out that Lauren is not particularly uptight, sexually, and Katie isn't as experienced as she advertises.

Lauren's ex-boyfriend Charlie (James Wolk) is a cloyingly boring and self-centered dick, the most negative portrayal of a guy in the film. But though it would have been easy to present the male phone sex clients as awkward, asocial creeps, Travis and the writers make these masturbating dudes into funny, self-possessed comic foils for Miller and Graynor. Not to keep beating on a dickhead, misogynist horse, but that generosity is completely absent in The Hangover, with its bitchy fiancée character and the shrewish wife Ed Helms dumps for a submissive hooker. Lauren and Katie aren't defined by their attitudes toward men; they're defined by being fucking funny and awesome.