Denise Calls Up

1996, PG-13, 82 min. Directed by Hal Salwen. Starring Tim Daly, Caroleen Feeney, Dan Gunther, Dana Sheeler Nicholson, Liev Schreiber, Aida Turturro, Allana Ubach, Sylvia Miles.

REVIEWED By Hollis Chacona, Fri., May 24, 1996

At first glance, Denise Calls Up appears to be one long, facile, trendy, overextended cinematic gimmick -- a tale of Nineties technophiles who have forsaken nearly all human contact and commune only through phones, faxes, and answering machines. The urban, at-home workers are variously “swamped,” “drowning,” “deluged,” and “inundated” with pure busy-ness, rarely daring to move out of keyboard reach. Their self-imposed exile becomes so commonplace and so comfortable that physical interaction becomes unnecessary, even untenable. Indeed, no two characters ever appear in the same frame (well, hardly ever). Instead, they make long and frequent phone calls, constantly clicking the receiver buttons to use their call-waiting mechanism so they can simulate group conversation. Writer/director Salwen's deft touch and wry sense of humor makes the gimmick work. You never get the feeling that the static framework was artificially imposed or that the plot was fashioned specifically to fit it, rather that it grew, quite naturally, from the story. Despite its close environs, the movie moves along quickly, fueled by technological pratfalls, interesting camera angles, a witty script, and a terrific soundtrack. (Listen for the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Muddy Waters, and Reverend Horton Heat.) Denise Calls Up is at once prosaic and preposterous, playful and poignant. The main players are, for the most part, a wonderfully plain and unglamorous lot whose hesitant, wholly human performances contrast vividly with Sylvia Miles' flamboyant diva of death and Allana Ubach's forthright, free-spirited (and no doubt unemployed) title character, Denise. Salwen's movie is an affectionate one, filled with exasperating, endearing characters, funny dialogue, sweet romance, and an off-center core that moves the picture along in unexpected lurches, like one of those weighted balls that veers away from you just as you are about to catch it. It can be maddening, but it's fun.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Tim Daly Films
Low Down
John Hawkes plays junkie jazz musician Joe Albany in this film based on his daughter's memoirs.

Josh Kupecki, Nov. 14, 2014

It begins in a muddle and ends in confusion. In between, Basic takes more silly twists than any that might be on display at a ...

Marjorie Baumgarten, March 28, 2003

More by Hollis Chacona

July 14, 2000

Dill Scallion

Oct. 8, 1999


Denise Calls Up, Hal Salwen, Tim Daly, Caroleen Feeney, Dan Gunther, Dana Sheeler Nicholson, Liev Schreiber, Aida Turturro, Allana Ubach, Sylvia Miles

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle