Talk to Me

George Esguerra's first directorial feature, "Talk to Me," is a modest, low-key romantic comedy about two twentysomething lonely hearts who first connect via the telephone. Nicely observed, and well acted by Cheryl Clifford in the lead role, pic is a bit too static and humble for the theatrical market, which has been saturated with romantic comedies of its kind. But its airing of the interesting voice of a new writer-director makes it a good bet for a reasonable run on the fest circuit. Like Spike Lee's superior "Girl 6" and Hal Salwen's more entertaining "Denise Calls Up," two pictures that failed commercially, "Talk to Me" is mostly phone chatter between Betty Cole (Clifford), an attractive single women pushing 30, and Arnold Dowling (Peter Welch), a shy, overworked guy who's recovering from a bad relationship. Their quick conversations evolve into a lengthy phone fling, with the protagonists engaging in talks that ignite their wildest sexual fantasies.

With:
Betty Cole Cheryl Clifford Arnold Dowling Peter Welch Ronnie Goldstein Elizabeth Landis Michael Dowling Gary Navicoff Jerry Rick Poli

George Esguerra’s first directorial feature, “Talk to Me,” is a modest, low-key romantic comedy about two twentysomething lonely hearts who first connect via the telephone. Nicely observed, and well acted by Cheryl Clifford in the lead role, pic is a bit too static and humble for the theatrical market, which has been saturated with romantic comedies of its kind. But its airing of the interesting voice of a new writer-director makes it a good bet for a reasonable run on the fest circuit.

Like Spike Lee’s superior “Girl 6” and Hal Salwen’s more entertaining “Denise Calls Up,” two pictures that failed commercially, “Talk to Me” is mostly phone chatter between Betty Cole (Clifford), an attractive single women pushing 30, and Arnold Dowling (Peter Welch), a shy, overworked guy who’s recovering from a bad relationship. Their quick conversations evolve into a lengthy phone fling, with the protagonists engaging in talks that ignite their wildest sexual fantasies.

Turning point occurs when Arnold stimulates Betty so much that she ends up stripping off her clothes and having an orgasm on the floor of her apartment. Embarrassed and shocked by the experience, she initially reacts by denying Arnold’s effect on her, but gradually she succumbs to a more personal courtship.

Co-writers Esguerra and Robert Foulkes handle the somehow limited dramatic situation rather well, in the process reversing some gender conceptions. Beyond its light romantic surface, the movie concerns more serious issues, such as the masks and deceptions that people adopt, consciously and subconsciously, in order to protect themselves from being hurt.

But “Talk to Me” is basically a two-character piece, and the duo’s fables and foibles are just not rich enough to sustain a feature-length film. There are only two other secondary figures, Ronnie (Elizabeth Landis), Betty’s best friend and confidante, who goes from one meaningless affair to another, and Michael (Gary Navicoff), Arnold’s severely stern brother, who also functions as his therapist.

While Clifford dominates the film with her strong presence and solid voice, Welch, as her partner, renders a much weaker performance. With the exception of David McLary’s music, which is dull and inappropriate for the material, tech credits are proficient, particularly the crisp lensing by Randy Drummond, who shot “Welcome to the Dollhouse.”

Talk to Me

Production: A Pug Films production. Produced, directed by George Esguerra. Screenplay, Esguerra, Robert Foulkes.

With: Betty Cole Cheryl Clifford Arnold Dowling Peter Welch Ronnie Goldstein Elizabeth Landis Michael Dowling Gary Navicoff Jerry Rick PoliCamera (color), Randy Drummond; editor, Tom McArdle; music, David McLary; production design, Jori Adam; art direction, Dixie Thomas, Deborah Lanino; costume design, Debra Edelman; sound (Dolby), Boaz Atzmon; associate producers, Deborah Lanino, Foulkes; line producers, Mark Tocher, Ed Stephenson. Reviewed at the Sunset screening room, L.A., Nov. 22, 1996. (In Fort Lauderdale Film Festival.) Running time: 90 MIN.

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