Even though the desire to be understood and forgiven is universal and worthy of consideration, it is so hard to address in narrative without lapsing into cornball sentimentalism or the wispy epiphanies that keep Ira Glass rolling in Ford Foundation cheddar. Writer-director Maggie Kiley's earnest Dial a Prayer depicts the struggle of a young woman clutching at this kind of sincerity because it's the only plank keeping her from drowning in her own remorse. Thanks to her connected dad's intervention, Cora's (Brittany Snow) participation in the drug-fueled vandalism and arson of a church results in a sentence of community service at a dial-a-prayer call center.
Nearly paralyzed with guilt over the severe injuries suffered by a church employee, Cora mostly dissociates from her family, her coworkers, and call center manager William H. Macy, whose lustrous hair is feathered like the wings of a magnificent bird. During an illicit smoke break one day, she's confronted by Chase (Tom Lipinski), a caller for whom she'd prayed, who tells her that her efforts saved him. The encounter awakens Cora to the real but difficult-to-discuss issues of forgiveness, atonement, and the top three tiers of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, basically. The film's second half is punctuated with some long speeches from Cora about forgiveness, an embarrassingly on-the-nose analogy about unblemished snow, and some of those This American Life epiphanies. But director Kiley is mostly successful at keeping Hallmark banalities at bay, relating Cora's crime in a series of tense flashbacks, and populating the film with funny characters played by a top-notch cast.