DENISE CALLS UP is a claustrophobic, but carefully executed one
joke movie. Within the strict confines of the show's unusual format,
writer and director Hal Salwen creates a movie that does the most
possible given the script's rigid adherence to its design. Even given
its inherent limitations, it is interesting, unique, and thought
provoking. Still, I feel I should warn you that its repetition and its
circular story may make all but the most dedicated cinema buffs a
DENISE CALLS UP takes place solely in the world of the
telecommuters. Remember the scene in BYE BYE BIRDIE where everyone
talks on the telephone in individual rooms? Well, in DENISE CALLS UP,
everyone is in their own homes working and periodically chatting with
their friends. What they never ever do is actually leave to meet any
of them. They promise to meet, they throw parties, and they arrange
blind dates, but they all fashion different excuses so they can all
stay within the safe confines of their homes.
The movie is populated by a world of troglodytes who are afraid of
human contact. They like talking, but actual human interaction is too
frightening, better to stick to intimate relationships with their
phones and their computers. Besides Homo sapiens, the picture is
filled with every type of phone and computer imaginable. All of the
phones have call waiting and much of the show consists of A talking to
B, who then gets a call from C causing B to put A on hold. C then gets
a call from D. You get the idea. In order to arrange blind dates with
each other they fax around pictures of the last time they have actually
seen each other, which is in school.
They take calls while on the toilet. Sometimes they read while
talking on the toilet, but other times they work on their laptops while
there. Barbara (Caroleen Feeney) hangs up on potential blind date,
Jerry (Liev Schreiber), because she does not mind talking with her
coworkers or business clients while on the toilet, and using her
laptop, but she draws the line at non-business people whom she does not
There is no central character, but the name of the show comes from
a scene where Martin Wiener (Dan Gunther) is called by a woman, Denise
(Alanna Ubach), on a bus on her cell phone. Although he has never met
her, it seems she is having his baby since she got his sperm from a
sperm bank. The on-going joke is whether they or any other of the
couples in the show ever meet or will they confine their relationship
to words spoken on the phone.
The quick cuts by editor Gary Sharfin and the tone set by the
director make the movie feel highly improvisational. This means some
silly lines will be followed by some excellent ones.
Gale (Dana Wheeler Nicholson) has Frank (Tim Daly) as an
ex-boyfriend whom she is always going to see again, someday. She plays
matchmaker with Barbara and Jerry, but they keep putting each other
off. In a classic line, Barbara is talking on her car phone to Jerry
and trying to convince him that is the reason she can't actually set a
date for their date. She says, "I'm on Park Ave. See. [She beeps
her horn.] I don't have my schedule. I mean my primary schedule. I'd
hate to pencil you in and then find I have a discrepancy." Barbara
does not understand it when her romance with Jerry doesn't work like
she would like and so she sours on him proclaiming, "He was so sweet in
the beginning, sending me little love faxes."
The shallow and meaningless lives these people live consists of
conversations, phone sex, fear of commitment, and most of all, an
absolute phobia about physical human contact. A phone is much safer.
Better to have never actually met someone than be disappointed. When
there is a death, you may be able to guess how, Frank consoles Linda
(Aida Turturro) with, "Don't feel bad. Death is well, not for
everyone." These people have long since hung up on life so I am not
sure why death is so hard for them to deal with.
Although the acting is fine, the reason to see this experimental
show is to see how long they can keep these characters from ever
meeting. Will the whole show go on and every room have just a single
character? Will anyone risk meeting face-to-face? Is having a baby
enough to bring the parents together? Will anyone come to Frank's
party or will it be like Linda's where everyone promised to come and
not a single one showed? I'm not telling.
DENISE CALLS UP runs just 1:21, but even shorter, it would have
been better as the show does wear out its welcome a bit. It is rated
PG-13. There is no violence, no nudity, almost no bad language and the
sex is strictly over the phone. The picture is fine for teenagers and
probably for some kids a little younger. I give the film a thumbs up
and rate it ** 1/2.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes