Denise Calls Up (1995)

denise calls up 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friends over the phone.

This is a highly original offbeat comedy dealing with a group of young urbanites living in New York who become friends over the phone, but never meet in person. There is Martin (Dan Gunther) who donates some of his sperm to a sperm bank and then gets a call from Denise (Alanna Ubach) who was impregnated with it and now calls to tell him he is the new father. Gail (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) tries to play matchmaker with Jerry (Live Schreiber) and Barbara (Caroleen Feeney) with the help of her former boyfriend Frank (Tim Daly). Linda (Aida Turturro) and Sylvia Miles as Gail’s nutty Aunt round it out.

The best thing about the film is that all the characters are very real and it makes concise observations on the young upwardly mobile Generation X. All of them possess a myriad of contradictions, insecurities, and neuroses just like people you know in real-life. They are technology savvy, but seem to hide behind it like it is a security blanket. The more options that they are given to communicate with more people the more isolated they become not only from the world around them, but from themselves as well.

I especially got a kick out of the Barbara character because I dated women who were just like her. She is interested in meeting Jerry and seems to like him, but every time he tries to move the relationship forward she backs away and then when he pulls away she goes on the offensive again. She reminded me of what a marriage counselor friend once told me for how he had managed to stay married for so long, which was ‘let them always think they are in control and also let them think that they have won every argument.’

The film is filled with many uniquely humorous scenes as well as sharp dialogue that are quite funny. My favorite part is when all the characters get on a conference call in order to offer support and give advice to Denise during her delivery.

Director Hal Salwen does a great job of keeping things visually interesting. I loved the extremes close-ups of some of the characters mouths as they spoke as well as the back drop of Jerry’s cluttered cramped apartment and the variety of settings that Denise is in when she calls Martin. Salwen was considered an up-and-coming director at the time, but has only done two other features since, which were quite original as well, but he really needs to do more.

Although in my mind I still consider the 90’s to be relatively recent I was really amazed to see how much the technology has changed since this was made. The phones are big and bulky and still require the use of a little antenna for reception. There was no such thing as the internet and faxes were used to send grainy black and white pictures. In some ways this makes it kind of fun to see how things have evolved, but unfortunately it hurts the film a bit because it gives this otherwise hip story a sort of dated look and feel.

The film also allows for a great chance to see young talented stars at the start of their careers. Ubach with her very expressive face is a standout and looks almost exactly like Donna Pescow. Miles is predictably hammy especially with the way she delights in describing the morbid graphic detail of the death of one of the characters that dies when she talks on the phone while driving.

Spoiler Alert!

The only real complaint I had with the movie is the ending when Frank decides to hold a New Year’s Eve party and invites everyone over to his place so they can meet, but everyone finds an excuse at the last minute not to show up. When one of the characters does arrive and rings his doorbell he decides not to let them in. To me this proves to be a bit false especially for a film that was so otherwise on-target. I get the idea that their laptops and phones are their cocoon and they can only function halfway normally when they hide behind them, but still everyone has to get out sometimes and deal with people in person. In my opinion a better way to have ended it would have been to have them get together, but have it be awkward and uncomfortable for all of them. Then have it cut to 5 years later and show how all of them have remained close friends, but still just over the phone.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 17, 1995

Runtime: 1Hour 20Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Hal Salwen

Studio: Dark Matter Productions

Available: VHS

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