Set in Manhattan in 1995, LANDLINE follows three women in one family having lots of sex, drugs, and Japanese food. Navigating monogamy, honesty, and a long-lost New York, the Jacobs family lives in the last days when people still didn't have cell phones and still did smoke inside. Teenage Ali discovers her dad's affair, her older sister Dana uncovers her own wild side, and their mother Pat grapples with the truth that she can't have it all, but her family still has each other. For a generation raised on divorce and wall-to-wall carpeting, LANDLINE is an honest comedy about what happens when sisters become friends and parents become humans.
Another authentic comedy from Robespierre that dives head first into discomfort
1995 was a far simpler time for interpersonal communication, right? Well, at the very least, Gillian Robespierre's "Landline" would have played out much differently set in the smartphone era. The "Obvious Child" filmmaker re-teams with co-writer Elisabeth Holm and star Jenny Slate to tell the story of a Manhattan family that appears to be falling apart when the teenage daughter discovers evidence that her father's having an affair.
As with "Obvious Child," no topic is off limits for Robespierre, especially not sex, drugs and other poor choices. Teenager Ali (Abby Quinn) is a rebel child who sneaks off to clubs and dabbles in hard drugs; working professional Dana (Slate) becomes disenchanted with her fiancé (Jay Duplass) and starts falling for a high school ex and there's no shortage of outspoken marital discord between the father (John Turturro) and mother (Edie Falco).
Robespierre handles each of the film's serious issues in earnest, but there's a comedic whimsy that floats through every scene, especially when Slate is involved. Robespierre and Holm's voice as a writing duo is unfiltered - both mature and immature at the same time. Slate does her best work in that gray area and continues to be an underutilized talent. Turturro and Falco are no slouches (in a year with some great movie parents) and they also recognize the dual tones of the film, even if they don't get to hold the narrative for much of the runtime.
Moments of human connection are the touchstones of this story, especially under humorous pretenses. Not all that much about these moments is profound, but they're honest and relatable - nothing is fake or manipulated for comedy to an extent that feels aimed at laughter more than truth. And even though the '90s setting feels mostly about fun throwback references, it works to the film's advantage in creating a greater contrast between scenes of in-person connection and moments when characters distance themselves from each other. In today's world, there is no separation.
"Landline" would have made more of a splash if in the end it wasn't simply a film about owning up to and accepting flaws. It arrives there on its own thoughtful path - an agreeable path that's true to its characters - but the themes are just a little obvious. For the right viewer at the right time, however, they will strike home in a deep way.
A good example of the really positive direction independent coming-of-age films have taken in the 2010s, "Landline" shows that Robespierre has a deep understanding of what kind of storytelling is resonating with young adults. Namely, she understands formula and situation and anything remotely glossy doesn't cut it. Her film exudes the authenticity, specifically the desire to dig into the questioning and unflattering sides of ourselves, that more mainstream films sorely lack.
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