Unless you are a devotee of the genre, shock jock radio can be tough to take, and to their credit, codirectors J.D. Brynn and Abe Goldfarb do a fantastic job of capturing that feeling in their new movie, First Time Caller. You’ll sometimes reach for the stop button on your DVD player just to shut him up when listening to their cinematic DJ, Brent Ziff (played by Goldfarb).
And when the story turns dark with a listener who calls in to convince Ziff somehow that he can predict future disasters through the rumbling in his bowels, you may want to stop it even more.
Resist that urge.
While First Time Caller can be challenging to sit through at times, it’s not because Brynn and Goldfarb don’t know what they’re doing, behind or in front of the camera. It’s proof that they do.
The setup is disarmingly simple: Shock Jock Brent Ziff spends his evenings alone in his basement, talking with people from around the country calling into his show. Talking may be wrong because Ziff uses language to tease, bait, and humiliate his faithful listeners. And his followers love him for it. One night, after quickly dispatching with a few regulars, Ziff gets a call from Leo Short – whom he immediately dubs “Shorty” – who reveals that his painful intestinal issues are harbingers of natural disasters that will kill thousands and thousands of unsuspecting innocent people. Ziff, no stranger to weirdos calling into his show, thinks Shorty is just another nut but knows he will at least be good for ratings. So he keeps him on the line.
And then Shorty’s latest gut problem prediction happens.
Everything you have heard or seen in First Time Caller up to this point has set the hook for what happens next, and it would be unfair to spell it out here. Just enjoy the ride. You can meditate on what it all means or how Brynn and Goldfarb played their audience like a virtuoso on a violin when it’s over. Or after you watch First Time Caller a second time.
And even if you aren’t looking for a movie you can think about, you can still enjoy the take-no-prisoners performance of Goldfarb as Brent Ziff. It’s a fine line between playing an obnoxious character and being an obnoxious character, and Goldfarb walks it like a seasoned tightrope artist. You may hate his character, but like a lot of First Time Caller, that is all part of the filmmakers’ plan. It just sets you up for the moment when the world, especially the on-air world of Brent Ziff and his audience, changes forever because some guy has gas.