Talk to Me

Romantic comedy color

George Esguerra's feature directorial feature, Talk to Me, is a modest, low-key romantic comedy about two twentysomething lonelyhearts 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 it should travel the festival circuit and display the interesting voice of a new writer-director.

Like Spike Lee's far superior Girl 6 and Hal Salwen's far more entertaining Denise Calls Up, two pictures that failed commercially, true to its title, 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.

What begins as quick and short conversations evolves into a lengthy phone fling, with the protagonists engaging in talks that ignite their wildest sexual fantasies. Turning point occurs when one day, Arnold stimulates Betty so much that she ends up stripping her clothes and having an orgasm on the floor of her apartment. Embarrassed and shocked by the experience, her first reaction is to deny Arnold's effect on her, but gradually she succumbs to a more personal courtship.

Co-writers Esguerra and Foulkes handle the somehow limited dramatic situation rather well, reversing in the process some gender conceptions. Though both insecure and intimidated by the mating game, it's Betty who conceals her true identity, presenting herself as Miranda, which is the name of her long-deceased mother. And it's Arnold, who suffers from a damaging bond, in which he was the victim of deception when his g.f. announced out of the blue that she was marrying another guy.

Beyond its light romantic surface, the movie concerns some more serious and earnest issues, such as the masks and deceptions that people adopt, consciously and subconsciously, in order to protect themselves from being hurt. Chief problem is, 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 Navikoff), 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 crisp lensing by Randy Drummond, who recently shot Welcome to the Dollhouse.

A Pug Films production. Produced, directed by George Esguerra. Screenplay, Esguerra, Robert Foulkes. Camera (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.

Running time: 90 min.

Betty Cole……….Cheryl Clifford
Arnold Dowling……….Peter Welch
Ronnie Goldstein…Elixabeth Landis
Michael Dowling…….Gary Navicoff
Jerry…………………Rick Poli