For a Good Time Call

September 14, 2012

For a Good Time Call
Grade: 73
Cast: Ari Graynor, Lauren Anne Miller, Justin Long
Director: Jamie Travis
Rating: R,for language and strong sexual content
Running time: 86 minutes

Most actors are better than their filmographies.

Think about it — most actors must work. Most of them can’t afford to be too choosy about the sort of parts they take. And most of the movies (and TV shows) being made today are fairly blunt instruments designed to capture the hearts and minds of what most people who make programming decisions think of as a bottom-dwelling demographic.

And talent is abundant. If you don’t take the role of Pole Dancer # 3, you can bet they’ll find some Barnard College Department of Theatre graduate who will. And so Paul Giamatti plays a character named “Pig Vomit” before he becomes Paul Giamatti. You can’t hold actors’ roles against them — they are almost always better than that.

So I haven’t give up on Ari Graynor, who we first met in The Sopranos a decade ago, when she was still a teenager. She was the best thing in Nick and Norah’s Ultimate Playlist, and she was quite good in a small part in Mystic River. But now, at 29, she’s usually reduced to raunchy best friend roles in sub-par romantic comedies (though she was in Celeste and Jesse Forever, which was a solid par).

I know she’s talented. I know she could be great. I love that she gets a chance to star in For a Good Time Call. But I hate this movie.

It’s another lazy, medium concept sex comedy that would have actually worked if it were actually funny. The sort of film that might sound like a good idea when you scribble the idea down on a cocktail napkin and cast it in your head. It sounds like it might be exactly the sort of movie that finally announces Graynor’s comedic talent to the world.

“What if a couple of nice girls who are having trouble making ends meet in the big city start their own phone sex line as a way of getting over? What if we put Ari Graynor in it?”

Sounds good to me.

Unfortunately, that’s probably longer and harder anyone really thought about this movie, which is more premise than actual joke. The idea that phone sex workers can turn out to be quite different than their disembodied voices imply might be worth exploring by a more earnest, diligent and engaged intelligence than whatever drove this project.

(And I’m not necessarily blaming director Jamie Travis — or even writer Lauren Anne Miller, who co-stars as Graynor’s best friend and coconspirator — for this mess. Miller was just trying to write herself a decent role, and directors have to work every bit as much as actors.)

Anyway, here’s the plot. Katie Steele (Graynor) hasn’t the money to pay the rent for her fabulous apartment in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park. Her straitlaced frenemy Lauren (Miller) has just lost her job at a publishing company. Their mutual best (gay) friend, Jesse (Justin Long, another actor who really needs better roles) decides they need each other more than their long simmering feud (something disgusting happened back when they were in college).

So, they move in together, forming an odd couple. The business plan comes after Lauren applies her business acumen to Katie’s natural proclivity for creative communication. Soon they are great pals, and quite solvent indeed.

While the film is quite dirty, it also aims at a kind of beguiling innocence — the cinematic equivalent of the Knack’s first album. (You know, “Good girls don’t — but I do.”) Unfortunately, all it really has going for it is attitude — and Graynor’s crooked grin.

I haven’t give up on her. But then, I haven’t given up on Anna Faris either.

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