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Landline Review

Landline is a 2017 comedy set in 1995 about a teenager living with her sister and parents in Manhattan who discovers that her father is having an affair.

The quirky human comedy is stuffed to the rafters with all kinds off unremarkable fluff, so finding something with any hint of originality let alone authenticity is a rare gem. That’s why Gillian Robespierre‘s latest, Landline, is something that deserves a little celebration. It’s a film that embraces so much about the times it is set without propping it up like travel log of ‘remember that’ landmarks, all the while centered on truly engaging relationships. It’s certainly flawed, in easily forgivable ways, delivering an often personal experience with a touch of nostalgia.

A dysfunctional family in hiding, we meet wannabe writer Alan (John Turturro), his disillusioned wife Pat (Edie Falco) and their daughters Dana (Jenny Slate), who is living with and engaged to nebbish Ben (Jay Duplass), and Ali (Abby Quinn), a high schooler desperate to be older, experimenting with drugs, sex, and other assorted bad behaviors. Ali is feeling compressed under the roof of her unhappily married parents, learning by accident that her father is in fact involved in a long-term secret love affair, which has profound effects as her own sexual maturity leaves her confused. Meanwhile, she deals with Dana, who is in her own state of turmoil, cheating on Ben with an old college romance (Finn Wittrock).

Robespierre opens on a frank moment of sex, as Dana and Ben try to have sex up against a tree in the woods, hoping to add a little pizazz to their stale love life. Everything goes wrong of course and it serves as a sort of metaphor for the rest of the film, with sex being the catalyst for much of the flailing relationships in the story. It leads to far more disturbing crossroads though as the consequences of such bare the most raw of emotions and even further complications. It is unabashedly a story about women, and what Robespierre does best is refuse to align these people with the movieland conventions we expect, and while it may tread on familiar ground, does so with enough flair to make it all its own.

That all stems from the good work of the cast, with Slate and Quinn especially good together. Slate, reteaming with Robespierre who directed her to critical-acclaim in Obvious Child, continues to prove her worth beyond comedic roles, investing a lot of heart in Dana, a woman struggling to hold on in the middle of chaos. Turturro finds plenty of room to breath as well, as a man feeling utterly lacking in value, and Falco is of course, terrific.

Sort of akin to Noah Baumbach‘s The Squid and the Whale, Landline allows itself much more humor, letting Slate in particular wander off a bit in some earned laughs, mostly at her own expense, though never to distraction. Robespierre balances it well, and while there is no real darkness to it all, manages to always find ways to keep it real. It’s all layered in a sort 90s dream list of alternative and pop hit songs that constantly help to remind us where we are without ever pushing it too obviously in our face.

Landline is a pretty great little film that surprised me, simply because it seemed like I knew right what it was going to be before it even started. And while yes, it’s not about to redefine the genre, that it tripped me and had me hooked to the end is something I wish happened more often.

Landline Review

Movie description: Landline is a 2017 comedy set in 1995 about a teenager living with her sister and parents in Manhattan who discovers that her father is having an affair.

Director(s): Gillian Robespierre

Actor(s): Jenny Slate, Jay Duplass, Abby Quinn

Genre: Comedy, Drama

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