This appealing little blast of 1980s John Hughes nostalgia comes from one of the unlikeliest places: Parádně pokecal (titled Totally Talking in English), the debut feature from writer-director and FAMU graduate Tomáš Pavlíček, might be another Czech comedy-drama, but it’s as far removed from what has become the prototypical Czech dramedy as possible.
Still, while this likably retro outing earned a spot in my heart early on, the storytelling flatlines after the first act as Pavlíček’s script scrambles to latch on to a tangible story arc. At a mere 75 minutes – which barely qualifies it as a feature film – Totally Talking, unfortunately, just about wears out its welcome.
The narrative structure is initially engaging: young call center drone Štěpán Procházka (Vít Rohr) is on a weekend cottage trip away from the city with some friends (including Jakub Xavier Baro’s ‘Ready’) when he bumps into Karel (Václav Vydra, best known – perhaps unfortunately – as the lead in the Kameňák series) in the middle of the woods.
Štěpán is down in the dumps, and Karel is willing to hear his story: on his first day in the call center (Monkey Business’ Matěj Ruppert is a riot in brief scenes as the boss), Štěpán speaks to a woman named Marie, and refuses to offer her a better tariff. He later calls her back on his private number, and advises her to threaten to cancel her service; only then will she see results. Soon, the two strike up a friendship over the phone.
The film doubles back, flashback-within-a-flashback style, as Štěpán relates his backstory to Marie: kicked out of college and dumped by ex-girlfriend Lucie (Eliška Křenková) – who has shacked up with his friend – Štěpán’s life seems to be going nowhere. But Marie tells him to learn some foreign languages, exercise daily, and even advises him how to dress – advice that Štěpán, falling in love with Marie, is more than happy to latch onto.
But all of that ends when, out of the blue, Marie tells him to stop calling her.
The first two acts of Totally Talking are entirely backstory, which makes it difficult for the film to build up any narrative tension. Pavlíček is doing a lot more telling than showing, and by the time the big Berlin-set final act comes around – which should provide a satisfying resolution, as Štěpán finally tracks down Marie in person – we’ve become wearied, and yearn only for this short feature to reach its conclusion.
In those climactic scenes, Lukáš Pavlásek – who you may know as the deadpan schlub from local T-Mobile commercials – shows up for broad comic relief as a traffic cop and (later) security guard. Jana Krausová portrays the ‘Marie’ to the Václav Vydra character, in a pleasant-enough side plot that feels dramatically unrealized.
But what Totally Talking lacks in storytelling it makes up for in rough-hewn style. Filmed in a beautifully grainy 16mm, with a blip-blip synth score from Šimon Holý and a washed-out color palette that cries out 1985, the film seems to exist in a world of amiable John Hughes-era comedies; combined with the lightweight pursuit-of-girl storyline, there’s more than a hint of John Cusack-starring features like Better Off Dead or Hot Pursuit.
Totally Talking isn’t a total success, but it’s an affable showcase from both writer-director Pavlíček and his star Rohr, who exhibits a great so-what lethargic charisma in the lead. Their debut feature isn’t much more than a trifle, but it promises greater things in store for the future.