Deftly proving its own message that preconceived notions often end up being way off base, For A Good Time, Call ... -- yes, the movie about two young women who start a phone sex company -- turns out to be the most empowering movie of the year.
I had no intention of even seeing the movie, as I was convinced it was just another juvenile sex comedy, but I was talked into it by my daughter, who wanted to see it with me before returning to college. We both loved it. Filled with twists and surprises, it is fresh, original and smart. The characters are authentic and well-developed, and the story is a celebration of the power of female friendship. It's also hilarious.
Because I think this is such an important movie for women to see -- especially during an election year when preconceptions and divisiveness abound -- I jumped at the chance to sit down with co-screenwriters Katie Ann Naylon and Lauren Anne Miller (who also plays Lauren) and Ari Graynor (who plays Katie).
After spending time talking and laughing with them, it's easy to see why the movie rings so true and why it was such a hit at Sundance. These delightful young women give me hope for the future.
Here's a little bit of our conversation:
Lois: This was really a passion project for you. Can you give us a little background?
Lauren: Katie and I wrote this script three years ago and we tried to make it in the studio world, but it wasn't meant to be. The decision to produce it on our own grew out of this frustration of wanting to work together on something creative. I sent Katie an email on December 3, 2010 that started with, "I'm tired of having no career." This project was about doing something for ourselves, each of us for different reasons, but it was about making your own opportunities, creating your own destiny. And that's what, in some form, this whole thing has been. When you make an independent film, it's not easy.
Lois: I can so relate to that. My two friends and I started our own website because we also wanted to do something for ourselves. Your movie -- and your real-life story -- are so empowering because they show that women can actually achieve their goals with the help of other women.
Ari: Exactly. Not only did we each have our own reasons for wanting to do this -- obviously Katie and Lauren wrote it and when they came to me, it was such a welcome opportunity, because I had been waiting to prove myself as a lead and to get into developing and executive producing. But then we all came together and formed this amazing, creative emotional bond between the three of us and Jamie Travis, the director. The process of the four of us working together as a unit to create this -- and what it's like to truly find collaborators that you trust and are inspired by and make all of you better -- that part of it became this other incredibly satisfying, beautiful little beast.
Lauren: Independent film is so hard and grueling. It is such a luxury to find people who all want the same thing. So we weren't battling each other, we were battling the universe together -- and in really cute outfits.
Lois: The movie definitely reflects that camaraderie and is really a love letter to female friendship. How autobiographical is it?
Katie: Well, Lauren and I met in college. We were clearly different people.
Lauren (in mock horror): No!
Katie: I wouldn't say we had a rough start to our friendship. It was more like I looked at her and thought, "Ok, that's not going to work," and she was like, "Why are you looking at me like that?" I really pre-judged Lauren because she looked pretty much like a slice of pie and I'm not that kind of person, and I was waiting for her to judge me back. But before she even could, we were besties. But, even to this day, if Lauren and I were going to make plans for a Friday night, what I would want to do and what she would want to do are wildly different -- although the older I get, the more I want what Laura wants.
Lauren: It means you're just getting boring.
Katie: I'm getting tired! So that was one thing but the phone sex part -- that was something I had done from my dorm room in college and it was just a funny, weird thing. I remember that even telling Lauren about it was such an issue for me in my mind. And Lauren did look at me funny that day.
Lauren: It's funny. I get painted as the judgmental one but I'm really not. When Katie told me about the phone sex business, I thought, "Okay, not something I would ever do but if it's safe -- which it was -- and that's what you want to do and that's what can make you money, then fine. And I did tell her something that we put in the script but isn't in the movie, which was, "Keep it quiet, keep it in your room. I don't want to know about it." That's how I felt.
Katie: I didn't want to do it. I just needed the money and I would always do whatever I needed to do to get by. And that stuff is in the movie. Katie is scrappy, and Lauren needs life to deal her a blow before she gets scrappy. The Charlie character is sort of a conglomerate of all of our ex-boyfriends who were always looking for something -- or someone -- better.
Lois: Important autobiographical question, Katie. Did you ever really pee in a car, like your movie counterpart, which is what starts Lauren's hatred of you?
Katie: One time, out of necessity, I peed into a KFC bucket, but it didn't go into anyone's face. For the movie, it had to be something gross.
Lauren: That scene was a combo of a couple of things. It had to be something unforgivable -- at least in our minds. So the first night of college, I had a new car that my parents had bought for me and some drunk guy threw up in my car and did not offer to help clean it up or pay for it or anything -- ever.
Katie: It's Lauren's hill to die on.
Lauren: Every time I think about it, I wonder, "Who would do that? Who would actually do something like that?"
Lois: Care to mention his name?
Lauren: I don't remember his name. I wish I did because I would say it.
Katie: I know you would!
Ari: You can see how one person's thinking something's not a big deal and the other one is still angry over it years later.
Katie: Which one of us?
(Ari and Katie both look at Lauren and laugh)
Lois: Do you both gang up on Lauren?
Ari: No! What's so interesting is that in terms of that fun question, "Are you a Lauren or are you a Katie?" -- because they are two such archetypes -- I am totally down the middle.
Katie: Ari is always giving me advice, and I want to be the one giving her advice. I'm older by one year and I want to take her under my wing because I have that extra year of experience, but she pulls a Lauren on me a lot of the time.
Lois: Ari, was it weird having to portray Katie?
Ari: No, but as I've tried to explain to Katie, this was not her biopic!
Katie: That will be next year!
Ari: Katie has such an infectious, vibrant spirit that was so clear in the script. And there was so much about her character that I understood and loved. I just wanted to make sure that part didn't get too big without having the depth underneath it. I always needed to have both sides in play. That was my only concern. She was so supportive, I was like her doll.
Katie: I'd go around, calling, "Movie Me, oh Movie Me."
Lois: Lauren, how did it feel to play yourself?
Lauren: I didn't feel like I was playing myself, although there are certainly bits and pieces of me in fictional Lauren. It was a little scary to be the straight man. We spent a month at my house together, sitting around the dining room, working on the script, and literally two weeks before we shot I said to Katie, "Where are my jokes? Why don't I get to be funny?" That was the challenge of playing Lauren.
Lois: I loved when you were lying there, having sex, wearing your bra!
Lauren: Oh, I know. Isn't that so sad? And she's so into it.
Ari: There's one scene that's probably my favorite, where Katie reveals something surprising about herself to Lauren. The spirit of the real Lauren is most alive to me in that scene -- she's pragmatic but also so loving and so present.
Lois: I don't want to give anything away about that scene because it adds a whole other dimension to the movie and is not something I expected at all. I don't want to give too much away about this one, either, but I also love the scene toward the end where Lauren is on her way back ...
Katie: That one just came to us.
Lauren: Yeah, I remember when we wrote that and it was one of those lightning in a bottle moments where you just go, "We got it!"
Katie: We wanted to do a twist on the romantic comedy. There's nothing better than that scene where someone's running through the airport or through the rain. We knew we wanted to do something like that.
Lois: So is there one message you really want audiences, especially women, to get out of the movie?
Lauren: Just because someone pees in your hair in college doesn't mean they won't be your best friend ten years later. Girls judge each other for no reason, and you could end up missing your best friend or a really meaningful relationship that could change the course of your life for something so silly.
Ari: When you let yourself be open to someone else, you ultimately let yourself be open to yourself. By letting your guard down, you get closer to your own most authentic self.
Katie: That's really true. I've definitely learned a lot about myself from real Lauren, so I think there's something about letting your friends teach you about you. Lauren taught me how to be myself and, as Lauren always tells me, I taught her patience. Also, I think girls can be petty and that friendship can get thrown away over nothing. Anyone who thinks that it's superficial and unreal has clearly never been a girl with a friend! My friend, Holly, slept with a guy I liked, and I never talked to her again. She should not have done that but maybe she was still okay and we could have been stayed friends.
Lois: Judging from the reaction at Sundance and the advance screenings, the movie is resonating with viewers of all ages. I know that our readers, most of whom are in their 40s, 50s and 60s, have raved about how much they enjoyed it, even though Lauren and Katie are twenty-somethings. Why do you think it has such universal appeal?
Lauren: Well, sex is something that, in theory, all people do if they're lucky at some point in their life! I know there's a stigma around it -- I'm not sure I quite understand why -- but it is, if you will, a dirty little secret that everyone has or wants to have. Our movie talks about it in a really sweet way. It presents this raunchiness with a pretty pink bow.
Ari: Also, friendship is universal. I learned the importance of friendship through my mom. Her friends are the most important thing to her and the joke is, you know, "Joni has a million best friends." It's so rare to see female friendships portrayed in a truthful way in films. I can't even think of examples other than Beaches.
Lauren: We're Beaches without cancer.
Katie: We all like the movies from the '80s with actresses like Shelley Long and Bette Midler. Where have all those movies gone? So, how funny that we can have what some people call an Apatow sense of naughtiness but really what we're showing is the same thing that was in those movies from the '80s -- two girls trying to make it in the big city. Also, there's nothing mean-spirited about the jokes in our movie, which is very important to me. The humor comes from this comically large piece of rubber which no one ever does anything with. There's something really simple about what we've put up there. It's all about friendship and how men may come and go but the relationships you form with your girlfriends will probably last until your grave. How beautiful is that?