Landline (2017)

  • Time: 93 min
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Director: Gillian Robespierre
  • Cast: Jenny Slate, Finn Wittrock, John Turturro, Jay Duplass, Abby Quinn


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.

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  • Is there anyone who warms and breaks your heart as beautifully as Jenny Slate? There’s a vibrancy and volatility that makes her both emotionally transparent and attuned to her characters. The same applies to writer-director Gillian Robespierre, who showcased Slate so beautifully in the underrated delight Obvious Child. Slate, Robespierre and Obvious Child writer-producer Elisabeth Holm reunite in Landline, a dysfunctional family comedy drama that builds on the textured dimensionality and deeply empathetic yet irreverent affinity for characters that Robespierre displayed in her debut feature.

    Set in 1995, Landline focuses on the Jacobs, a family of upper-middle-class Manhattanites, most of whom are at some sort of personal crossroads. There’s patriarch Alan (John Turturro), a failed writer relegated to working as a copywriter for an advertising company. His wife Pat (Edie Falco) is a high-powered businesswoman who berates him for his weak parenting, especially when it comes to their youngest daughter Ali (Abby Quinn), a high-school senior whose increasingly reckless behaviour is an especial cause for concern. Ali is a typical teenager, still dependent on her parents yet acting as if she is doing them a favour by still living at home. Her discovery of her father’s affair and how it evolves her bickering relationship with older sister Dana (Slate) serves as the narrative engine of the film.

    Ali is understandably shaken by her father’s infidelity, but Dana is more sanguine since she is in the midst of her own transgression against fiancee Ben (Jay Duplass) with her old college crush Nate (Finn Wittrock). Dana is easily the trickiest character in the whole film because unlike Ali, who has the excuse of youth for not yet figuring out who she is and what she wants out of life, Dana is a twentysomething woman who not only knows exactly what she is doing by having an affair with Nate, but is also trying to validate her actions. The way Dana handles the situation can veer towards the abrasive and off-putting, but Slate makes one understand her dilemma – it’s not necessarily that Nate is more exciting than Ben (though he is), it’s that Dana wants to know if Ben is all there is and, more significantly, if she is all she is. Maybe there’s someone else inside her that’s trying to get out, she explains to Ali. Later, to her dad, Dana wonders if the life that she picked for herself is the life that she wants.

    That’s what Landline boils down to – are we living the life we genuinely want to live? Robespierre and Holm don’t provide definitive answers, but they understand why comfort can be a poison, why security can unsettle rather than calm, and how life will always be messy no matter how hard we try to keep it orderly. Slate, Falco and Turturro are unsurprisingly great, but Quinn (who shares an uncanny resemblance with Slate), is arguably the film’s MVP.

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