Plot: After she ran into legal trouble and was arrested, Cora (Brittany Snow) has been sentenced to community service and will answer phones at a church call center, where prayer is offered to those who phone in. She was lucky to be given such a slap on the wrist, but her lack of faith is evident and despite a scripted process, she struggles with the calls. As she doesn’t believe that faith or prayers can really help, her indifference comes across to those who call in and of course, in such times of stress, the callers need more compassion. Her boss Bill (William H. Macy) tries to be upbeat and positive about her potential, but unless she can find her way soon, she might have to be removed and that could mean more legal consequences. But when a man shows up at the call center and tells Cora that her help on a call greatly helped him, she wonders if there is more to her faith than she thought.
Entertainment Value: I assumed this was a religious movie based on the title, but Dial a Prayer is a more mainstream drama/comedy that happens to take place at a call center for prayer requests, with only light faith based elements. So don’t be put off if you’re not into Christian cinema, but the other side is that those interested in more religious themes might also be let down. The movie explores topics rooted in faith, such as forgiveness and hope, so perhaps religious viewers will appreciate that, but this isn’t heavy handed, linear faith cinema. I like the cast here, but Dial a Prayer has a weak narrative and doesn’t invest enough in its characters, which leads to unearned emotional beats and development. If you rush through how people change, it feels hollow and that is the case here, as Dial a Prayer is content to leap over character depth and development, hoping we will just accept the outcome, even if it makes no sense. This is a common trend in films of this kind, especially since the movie wants to push the romance angle, but it just doesn’t land here. A few laughs can be had in Dial a Prayer and the cast makes the script work better than it should, but the movie feels rushed and light on depth, which cancels out the positive messages within.
Although I didn’t find the narrative here to be well crafted, the material works at times, thanks to the cast involved. The performers are up to the task and elevate the script in some scenes, so Dial a Prayer is often saved by the talent in front of the camera. I would have liked to see how the movie would have turned out with more attention to the depth and characters, given how well the cast performs here. Brittany Snow has the lead and she is competent here, with her usual charm and wistful presence. She is able to convey the frustrations and even desperation of her character, especially as things look up, only to crash back down. I wish the script had given her more to work with, as she is likable and performs well here, so a sharper, more fleshed out character could have led to a remarkable effort. William H. Macy is good here in a smaller role, but one that has a lot of humorous lines and exchanges. His character is a supporting presence and not in the middle of the narrative, but he adds to the movie’s appeal, without question. The cast also includes Kate Flannery, Glenne Headly, and Tom Lipinksi, while director Maggie Kiley is at the helm.