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Phone Sect

Lauren Grabelle

A Higher Calling: Alanna Ubach talks up a storm in the new workaholic comedy "Denise Calls Up."

The telecommunications junkies of Hal Salwen's 'Denise Calls Up' are hung up about hanging up

By Heather Zimmerman

Truly a modern fable, Denise Calls Up explores the plight of the home-office hermit--perhaps a pitiful creature but one as potentially terrible as those dreaded car-phone-clutching motorists. The film's action takes place almost entirely deskside in the dwellings of Frank, Barbara, Martin, Gale, Jerry and Linda, six young professionals whose home offices have relieved them all of the uneasy prospect of face-to-face human interaction--and that includes with each other. Writer and director Hal Salwen makes their absolute isolation plain by allowing the relationships among them to develop only through their phone conversations.

This satire of the laptop set is fun to watch--and sometimes too real. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome fairly lingers in the air, and so it seems almost superfluous when a newcomer is added to this strange dynamic in the person of Denise, the recipient of Martin's donation to a sperm bank, who calls to tell him about the imminent happy event. Alanna Ubach gives a likable performance as Denise, whose quirkiness and general enthusiasm for life bring a hint of the outside world--if not exactly the real world--to the isolated phone-philes. With the gravelly voice and Brady Bunch-esque wardrobe that's requisite for the standard sitcom eccentric, the character sometimes seems too deliberately devised only to throw a wrench in the routine of the six workaholics, but Ubach tones her down into a more reasonable personality.

Although the film pokes fun at technology, it's far from being overtly anti-technology. In fact, the most habitual cell-phone user is Denise, whose nomadic tendencies take us all over New York City. Calling and being called by the increasingly paternal Martin, Denise remains in motion as consistently as everyone else vegetates at home. The film is both critical and supportive of the freedoms that communications technology now allows, demonstrating them to a hilarious extreme. In one montage, Barbara and Jerry enjoy a sight-unseen relationship that might put some 900 numbers to shame. Denise Calls Up doesn't, however, quite have the feel of a cautionary tale. Salwen, as a self-proclaimed workaholic, seems to recognize that any warnings will neither be appreciated nor heeded.

Denise Calls Up (PG-13; 80 min.), directed and written by Hal Salwen, photographed by Michael Mayers and starring Alanna Ubach and Dan Gunther.

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From the April 18-24, 1996 issue of Metro

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