Movie Review: “Dial a Prayer” cleverly hedges its bets


No leap of faith or sudden spiritual conversion brought Cora to the dial-a-prayer call center in suburban Detroit. A judge made that her community service sentence. Because Cora made a big mistake, one with religious implications.
She doesn’t “believe.” Her “How may I pray for you today?” isn’t sincere. She’s reading from a corporate playbook designed to nudge callers into subscribing or donating.
She watches the clock. And when it’s quitting time, she’s gotten her last pep talk from the preacher/boss (William H. Macy), her last coaching from the zealous author of the playbook (Aral Gribble). She can light a joint in the privacy of her car, maybe hit the liquor store on her way home, where her sad, wit’s-end mother (Glenne Headly) half-heartedly nags the 26 year-old, knowing it won’t do any good.
“Dial a Prayer” isn’t your preach-to-the-choir variety faith-based film. It’s cynical enough to suggest the futility of prayer, snarky enough to point out the bottom line, even at such a call center. But Cora, played with a guilt-ridden wince by Brittany Snow (“Pitch Perfect”), is headed toward some sort of, for want of a better phrase, “Come to Jesus moment.” We can feel it, with every flashback that tells her sordid back story, with every contrived (or imagined) prayer she offers, by phone, to a stranger.
Snow’s Cora never reveals herself to be “a natural” at this. But results turn up — she becomes “a rock star” operator, piling up the call log results, and a seemingly upright young man (Tom Lipinski) who was touched by her call and came to meet her.
Writer-director Maggie Kiley wrote, shoots and edits this in such a way that we wonder, given Cora’s mental state, if she’s imagining things like laying her hands on heart attack or traffic accident victims.
Cora resists the religious entreaties of her convincingly zealous boss (Macy), but not his threats about the judge who gave her this last chance at redemption. She lashes out at an absentee dad, a weak mother and at religion itself.
“Dial a Prayer” doesn’t tread the straight and narrow and reaches few predictable conclusions about Cora’s journey. But Kiley has created a pretty engrossing and somewhat moving story of a selfish, self-destructive drunk who finds, if not faith, at least the willingness to look outside of herself to try and help others and the chance to actually join the human race.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, brief strong language, some drug use and suggestive material

Cast: Brittany Snow, William H. Macy, Glenne Headly, Tom Lipinski
Credits: Written and directed by Maggie Kiley. A Vertical release.

Running time: 1:37

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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