DENISE CALLS UP represents what used to be dubbed a "Yuppie Comedy." This film about a handful of single white males and females looking for love in New York City tries to be witty and profound about modern relationships, but fails to live up to its hip, state-of-the-art premise.
In current-day Manhattan, several thirtysomething professionals are so busy, they only connect via telephone. The pregnant Denise (Alanna Ubach) calls up Jerry (Liev Schreiber) when she finds out that he donated the sperm she received from a sperm bank. Jerry feels great about the news, but never
makes plans to see Denise. Jerry does find time, however, to tell his friend Martin (Dan Gunther) about the baby. Meanwhile, Martin awkwardly pursues Barbara (Caroleen Feeney) over the phone, and when Martin fails to keep his date with her, they have phone sex instead. Across town, Martin's
friend, Frank (Tim Daly), tries to rekindle a romance with Gale (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson). Tragically, Gale dies in a car accident before they can meet. Soon after Gale's death, Denise gives birth. Frank calls all of Gale's friends to mourn her by coming to a New Year's Eve party. However, the
friends (except for two) fail to show up at the party, proving how hard it is to establish true intimacy in the Big Apple today.
In the 1970s Woody Allen made modern romantic comedies like ANNIE HALL (1977). In the 1980s, Allen imitators made more modern romantic comedies. Now, in the 1990s, the imitators of the imitators are making modern romantic comedies like DENISE CALLS UP. To his credit, writer-director Hal Salwen,
updates the genre with a clever gimmick: until the conclusion, the characters never meet in person, which gives the narrative a certain amount of tension. Also, Salwen plays off of John Guare's thesis about interpersonal relationships in SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION (1993), as six initial strangers
become united (through a death and a birth) over the course of the story.
Yet, what a shame it is that Salwen does so little with his high-tech alienation theme. Instead of the expected social satire, DENISE CALLS UP concentrates on dropping Woody Allen-type one-liners on a regular basis. And in another slavish nod to the Woodman, the Martin-Barbara romance in
particular resembles the nervous and nebbishy Allen-Diane Keaton courtship boilerplate. The talented cast valiantly tries to make the material fresh, but Salwen encourages forced, theatrical performances from everyone. Of special note, though, is Sylvia Miles (as Gale's Aunt Sharon) who sticks out
like a Fellini-esque gargoyle in the middle of this otherwise semi-realistic comedy-drama.
In the end, there is little to like about DENISE CALLS UP--but one day, no doubt, this film will be imitated, too. (Nudity, sexual situations, adult situations, profanity.)
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- Released: 1996
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: DENISE CALLS UP represents what used to be dubbed a "Yuppie Comedy." This film about a handful of single white males and females looking for love in New York City tries to be witty and profound about modern relationships, but fails to live up to its hip, s… (more)