SIFF Film Review – Landline
As we move further and further away from the decade that defined so many of us, 90’s period pieces are seeing quite an uptick in modern cinema. (The Wackness and The To Do List are the first to spring to mind.) And while it’s undeniably fun to reminisce and revel in the minutia of our youth, this practice in movies can sometimes ride the line of gimmicky. Gillian Robespierre‘s second feature film, Landline, toes that line but mercifully never crosses it completely.
Again enlisting the dynamo that is Jenny Slate, whom she’d previously collaborated with on 2014’s fantastic Obvious Child, Robespierre’s sophomore effort is both more sprawling and less engrossing than her debut. Slate heads an impressive ensemble cast as Dana, an engaged neurotic faking her way through adulthood in 1995 Manhattan. Her relationship with fiancé Ben (Transparent‘s Jay Duplass) appears breezy on the outset, but trouble soon intercedes in the form of a hunky former flame (Finn Wittrock). Because infidelity is only fun in twos, there is also suspicion that her father (an always welcome John Turturro) may be stepping out on mom (Edie Falco).
Despite Slate’s above-the-title status, the true star of Landline is newish-comer Abby Quinn as younger sister Ali. The varying storylines tend to center around Ali as she navigates her way through turbulent teenagehood. The plot (perhaps a generous word) mostly deals with Dana’s decision to temporarily move back home, ostensibly to support Ali in the aftermath of the discovery of their dad’s affair. In reality, though, it’s more a convenient excuse to avoid tackling her own ever-growing issues.
The question I found myself asking throughout the course of events was, does this NEED to be set in 1995 in order to be effective? It may seem like a minor gripe but a smidge too much of Landline seems designed to hammer us over the head with reminders of its place in history. The dysfunctional (read: relatable) family dynamic is too often derailed in favor of a one-off mention of Lorena Bobbitt or Blockbuster Video. IMDB informs me Gillian Robespierre was born in 1978, so it’s entirely possible this is a semi-autobiographical tale. If so, though, these references could stand to feel a little more integrated and natural and less like the Family Guy approach of “reference equals funny, yes?”
Pushing past this grievance, though, there is a lot to like here. Slate’s unique, manic presence is always welcome and Turturro and Falco’s depiction of marriage feels lived-in in the most authentic of ways. Additionally, Abby Quinn has the makings of a star, even when things begin dangling on the edge of treacly. Duplass is mostly tasked with mastering a hangdog expression, and the resolution of his storyline is maybe the most underwhelming of the bunch. It’s a jumble of subplots, some more to take from than others, but always aptly handled by Robespierre.
Landline is less intent on shattering your world than giving you a reasonably good excuse to stay in on a Saturday. Maybe you can find it at Blockbuster.