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Denise Calls Up
July 14, 2013

Denise Calls Up poster

I don’t recall why I suddenly thought about the 1995 movie Denise Calls Up, but watching it almost 20 years later was entertaining.

It’s an indy film, with a small cast, that revolves around a group of New Yorkers who do nothing but talk on the phone about how busy they are. Since it’s 1995, the technology is funny — one of those shoulder rests attached to a phone handset, a chunky cell phone, blocky laptops, call waiting, those clicky-clunky IBM PC keyboards.

Frank (Tim Daly) and Gale (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) are exes but still talk all the time. They’re trying to set up Frank’s friend Jerry (Liev Schreiber) and Gale’s friend Barbara (Caroleen Feeney), who finally hit it off telephonically after a bunch of missed connections. Any time any one sets up a real meeting, in person, everyone begs off with excuses about how much work they have. Meanwhile, Denise (Alanna Ubach) is calling Martin (Dan Gunther) because she’s having his baby with a sperm donation.

Gale (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) in Denise Calls Up

Gale (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) in Denise Calls Up

Barbara (Caroleen Feeney) in Denise Calls Up

Barbara (Caroleen Feeney) in Denise Calls Up

The reason this film has stuck with me all these years is because there’s a late scene that perfectly captures a weird modern fear. One of the cast members is on the car phone, leaving a message on another’s answering machine, when there’s an accident, so the last words are left on tape, followed by the crash noises.

Frank (Tim Daly) in Denise Calls Up

Frank (Tim Daly) in Denise Calls Up

There’s also a fascinating conference call, with most of the characters connected on the line as one gives birth.

If you sub in email for all the phone calls, it’s still an intriguing picture about how we seek to connect with each other and have a hard time dealing with significant relationships. Even if I did want to slap most of the characters at one point or another.

Jerry (Liev Schreiber) tries phone sex in Denise Calls Up

Jerry (Liev Schreiber) tries phone sex in Denise Calls Up

(For another time capsule moment, check out the studio’s webpage for the film from 1996.)

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