In “For a Good Time, Call . . .,” two women in their late 20s — Katie (Ari Graynor) and Lauren (Lauren Miller) — start a phone sex company. They were enemies in college, and a decade or more later, their mutual friend, a mildly swishy comedian (Justin Long), solves their respective real estate crises by reintroducing them to each other. Yes, cliché, cliché, cliché. However, even before they re-meet and Lauren reluctantly moves into Katie’s enormous Gramercy Park apartment, Katie, at least, seems interesting enough to make a television network executive nervous. She seems drunk and crazy and dim.
Early, she’s shown in the apartment, once occupied by her late grandmother, gyrating against a pole. When the building’s manager lets himself in (he’s black) to show the space (her rent is months late), Katie says she’s “sexercizing” and swivels her head as she talks to him, the way some white people think a black woman would. But when Graynor does it, I’m not ever sure she realizes what she’s doing, and the apparent lack of intent is funny.
There’s a script that Miller wrote with Katie Anne Naylon, and it’s often sharp and socially perceptive. What’s so good about Graynor, though, doesn’t come from the script, per se. I’ve seen her in movies that belong to other stars — “Whip It” and “What’s Your Number?” are two. This one, however, is hers, and since we don’t have a real sense of her comedic style or rhythm, she’s surprising. She might hail from a long line of asymmetrical funny women, Judy Holliday to Parker Posey. She might be someone totally new. But she deserves a chance to create a persona.
Is Katie a ditz, a slut, a loser, a brat, a snob? Is she cool or is that an act? You need a foil for an answer, and Miller’s an ideal opposite. Lauren makes a prim and respectable first impression. She comes from WASP-y stock (Mimi Rogers plays Lauren’s mother), wants a job in publishing, and has just been dumped by a lawyer boyfriend (James Wolk) on his way to Italy. But when Lauren puts on one of Katie’s jungle-print caftans, it’s a happy, sexy shock. Her lines have snap and wit. Off screen, Miller is married to Seth Rogen, who makes a crude cameo. She knows, perhaps better than he does, how to get a laugh without stooping for one.
It’s fair to confuse a movie about two young women who become unlikely roommates in New York with a television sitcom about the same thing. The difference is tracking shots and close-ups and lazy-Susan-style montages. “For a Good Time, Call . . .,” which Jamie Travis directed, has them. “Two Broke Girls,” on CBS, does not. That’s basically all that separates this movie from that TV show. There are worse similarities. This movie is basically where some small-screen comedy in the last year has been: “2 Broke Girls,” “New Girl,” and, their far superior sister, “Girls.”
What I like about this movie, independent of some scatological stuff and irrespective of what’s happening on TV, is that when it tires of the familiar setup and character dynamic, it delivers a minor surprise that makes both these women more interesting and complicated than they were a scene ago. It took about three seasons of “Sex and the City” for Charlotte and Samantha to become more like each other. This movie achieves that in one conversation.
I also like the stakes here. They’re low. Katie and Lauren’s company is successful, but it doesn’t make them rich or famous. It earns them enough money to dress even more fabulously and have nicer dinners. But Lauren knows what she’s doing. She’s a businesswoman, and it’s neat to hear them use the argot of our new economy. Boys, to have phone sex with Katie, you must use PayPal.
Naturally, all of the professionalism begins to deepen the friendship, and the movie becomes the latest romantic comedy between two straight friends. Miller’s husband has been making these movies — so-called bromances — for years, and I imagine the impetus for hers was parity. When Katie interrupts but doesn’t quite terminate intercourse with her kindly, spindly new beau (Mark Webber) to take a phone call from Lauren, I’d say mission accomplished. Their version is simultaneously as emotionally sincere and more archly self-conscious. They’ve achieved both parity and parody. They’ve made bra-mance.
Wesley Morris can be reachedat email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @wesley_morris.