Film Review: Dial a Prayer

Equal parts comedy and drama make up this small yet affecting account of a troubled woman's spiritual journey.
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After committing a criminal act with religious implications, Cora (Brittany Snow) is made to perform a type of community service by working at a dial-a-prayer call center in Detroit. The gung-ho, “Praise Jesus” energy of her boss (William H. Macy) and fellow employees grates on her, as she seeks escape from her big company prayer playbook via numerous smoke breaks. She also chafes at having to live at home with her overly concerned, nagging mother (Glenne Headly, properly annoying), who needily hangs onto her absentee husband.

Eventually, however, Cora begins to excel at her job, lending real aid to many desperate souls on the phone in need of a verbal spiritual lifeline. One of them, a hunky guy, Chase (Tom Lipinski), is so touched by her that he seeks her out in person, and a wary relationship develops between them, although a big secret threatens to destroy it.

Maggie Kiley, the writer-director of Dial a Prayer, is a sly puss. Her film begins as a seemingly snarky satire of all those God-for-a-dollar movements, with Cora the most virulent atheist there ever could be. But gradually, its deeper meaning sets in—i.e., the need of everyone for some kind of deep solace in their crazy lives, with bad-ass, former hard-partying girl Cora the most in need of all. The film becomes a rather touching portrait of a young woman's human growth, laced with a salutary number of small yet piquant observations along the way.

Snow, although a tad too old for the part, is nevertheless admirable in the way she never overtly seeks viewer sympathy, allowing you to fully take in her initial hostile measure. Looking a bit like that underused talent Carrie Snodgress, like that actress she has a naturally ingratiating quality which helps Kiley immeasurably in putting her concept over. Her burgeoning romance with Chase is especially affecting, and Lipinski plays him with a highly becoming modesty. Gavin Kelly's handsome cinematography lends visual niceties as well.

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