A daffy comedy about personal liberation, rooted in the surprisingly perceptive idea that aiding and abetting in others' repression is bad for society, For a Good Time, Call ... is a work of genuine sweetness and joyful filth. This isn't a film about wearing lingerie to restaurants or scaring the grandparents, it's just pained by the hoops that most people jump through so they won't be judged. The heroine Lauren (Lauren Anne Miller) is a good person who needs to find that secret inner fire to enter the echelons of the business world, and she finds it via a path that some would call tawdry. But the only true shame here is being dishonest, or making other people feel bad about themselves. There's some conflict with parents and a senior editor, but it's all window-dressing — this good-hearted comedy is about friendship, and helping. And phone sex.
Lauren is a kind soul who got caught up in the expectations of others, and it's thrown her own priorities out of whack. She's perceptive and skilled, but she's incomplete. So when she reconnects with her old college nemesis Katie — Ari Graynor, who's busty and broad in a way that makes her the absolute front-runner for any biopic about '70s-era Bette Midler — her new roommate seems like the ideal means by which Lauren can access the free, fun imagination locked within her array of sensible business-casual outfits.
The path to mutual happiness involves Lauren becoming part of Katie's start-up sex line 1-900-MMM-HMMM — first as a business officer, then as one of its voices. At that point, it's clear something's been missing in her life. There are a lot of subtleties and minutiae in women's friendships that men are just not privy to, but when our two leads head out into the world with brand-new matching purses after almost 10 years of animosity, even I could tell that it was a really sweet and perceptive moment. And Graynor is a treasure, with her equal parts '40s glamour and 1983 Christina Amphlett realness. She's simply a star.
This marks a surprising first feature for Jamie Travis. The mind behind The Saddest Children in The World trilogy (shown at a 2010 Nashville Film Festival retrospective) is not necessarily the first one you'd consider for an earthy sex comedy. But Travis has a deft hand when it comes to using physical space to accentuate the dramatic proceedings, and his wry, observant style helps to serve up some naughty material without it ever feeling exploitative or undercutting the characters' emotional growth. At no point are any of the girls exploited — they're always running the show, and we never leer at them.
Which makes this a rare sex comedy made by friendly people. Add a varied assortment of celebrity masturbators in cameo appearances, and indie legend Mark Webber (Storytelling, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) as what may be the best boyfriend character in cinematic history, and you've got a brisk evening at the movies that will lead to some interesting conversations afterward. Some of them, perhaps, even in person.