“Dial a Prayer” doesn’t work. I refer to the elusive drama written and directed by Maggie Kiley, not the erstwhile spiritual phone line. One hopes, however, the latter was more effective than this film, which has a lot on its mind but doesn’t quite know how to express it.
Cora (Brittany Snow) is a small-town girl who’s done a bad thing and is sentenced to community service at an inspirational call center. Brittle and surly, Cora resents her new job, has zero knack for it and rankles her religious-leader boss (William H. Macy), who’s shrewder than his beatific demeanor may first imply.
Cora must also interact with her eclectic, committed co-workers as well as with her sad mother (Glenne Headly), with whom Cora’s living during her “rehabilitation” period.
Things shift for Cora when out-of-towner Chase (Tom Lipinski) shows up at her workplace claiming he was greatly helped by Cora’s recent phone counsel. She’s unnerved by his mysterious appearance until she finds herself unexpectedly drawn to the gentle young man. But everything is not what it seems.
The troubling crime that sent Cora’s life into a tailspin would have benefited from a more direct, upfront portrayal instead of via Kiley’s slow, unsatisfying reveal. But as with much else here — how exactly Cora becomes a Dial a Prayer sensation, how the business works financially, details of Cora’s parents’ estrangement — the filmmaker’s less-is-more approach leaves us adrift instead of enlightened. The sluggish pacing doesn’t help.
Snow is excellent, though, as she attempts to inhabit her murky character. If only we had a better sense of what the movie was trying to say about faith — or the lack thereof.
“Dial a Prayer”
MPAA rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, brief strong language, drug use, suggestive material.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills. Also on VOD.