Dial A Prayer is cynical, dark, mysterious, and not exactly feel-good fare with moments of comedy mixed in. We follow Cora (Brittany Snow), a 26-year-old with a criminal past for which a judge has sentenced her hours of community service at a prayer-call center. The ostensible objective there is to help callers in need of prayer. It’s led by a perpetually peppy pastor named Bill (the outstanding William H. Macy), who may not be as totally kind-hearted as he outwardly appears. Of course, neither is the call center; in actuality, it seems geared toward promoting religious subscriptions and donations, and those tasked with praying for callers are micromanaged almost word for word while they’re on the phones. They try to act as if they’re a big, happy team, but some of the prayer warriors are more in need of prayer than the callers.
Cora wants no part of the place, but Bill drops the friendly facade long enough to threaten to rat her out to the judge if she doesn’t play along. Reluctantly, she does, but doesn’t always follow the script. Some of her counsel sounds decidedly un-Christian and — dare we say it? — wickedly funny.
Cora tries to reconcile what she did — and what it was isn’t exactly spelled out, but it seems like some sort of church vandalism that resulted in a woman being severely injured — with what she must do next. It’s hard for her to go forward because the family issues that are very possibly are at the root — her dad is absent and her mom is sad and nags her endlessly. Those relationships haven’t been resolved and never are. And while she tries to sort all this out, she encounters a young man named Chase (Tom Lipinski) who tracks her down, telling her that the time they shared on a prayer phone call made a difference in his life. How he found her, and recognized her by voice alone, gives her pause but eventually the two become close.
The longer Cora works at the prayer center, the more she opens herself to the possibility of faith — that maybe her prayers are making a difference, even though she’s still not what many would typically describe as a believer. It isn’t what you would call a prototypical Christian film, but it leaves the door open to the legitimacy of faith. When an elderly gentleman collapses with what appears to be a heart attack, nobody rushes toward him and nobody performs chest compressions. Cora simply prays for him until help arrives.
Bottom line: This is a film for more mature people. There are bad things shown — drunkenness, cocaine use, and sex is implied — but they’re nowhere near glorified by the movie. Rather, it shows how those things contribute to a miserable existence. It forces the viewer to consider religious hypocrisy, and the power of prayer — even when it’s coming from somebody not living a pristine life, but simply trying to find their way. As such, after grappling with the rating, we’ve decided it merits a Dove Approval for Ages 18-plus, because there’s clearly material that will give some viewers pause. But that pause will make you think, and at the end that seems to be what writer Maggie Kiley is after.
The Dove Take:
This isn’t one of those stories that lends itself to a feel-good ending or a clear taking of sides. We could suggest there’s a lot of shades of gray in this movie, but that title was taken by somebody else.