R | 1h 33min | Comedy | 21 July 2017 (USA)
Synopsis: When two sisters suspect their father (John Turturro) may be having an affair, it sends them into a tailspin that reveals cracks in the family façade. For the first time, older sister Dana (Jenny Slate), recently engaged and struggling with her own fidelity, finds herself bonding with her wild teenage sister Ali (Abby Quinn). The two try to uncover the truth without tipping off their mother (Edie Falco) and discover the messy reality of love and sex in the process. Set in 1990s Manhattan, Landline is a warm, insightful and comedic drama about a family united by secrets and lies, co-written and directed by Gillian Robespierre (Obvious Child).
Review: Family disfunction is always a good launch pad for a script and the new comedy/drama LANDLINE takes full use of it; to extremes. In fact it might be the over abundance of character folly that keeps the film from being amazing. Though still very solid it had so much more potential. With Gillian Robespierre at the helm and the talented cast this could have been monumental.
The premise of the film is a tad misleading and didn’t need be. Yes it is about two sisters, Dana (Jenny Slate) and Ali (Abby Quinn) who suspect their father (John Turturro) is having an affair but that is just a side note when compared to everything else going on. The two sisters are too engrossed in their own life struggles to really do any investigating or bring much comfort to each other. The older sister Dana’s plot line to me was the most intriguing mainly do to the endearing nature of Slate. Ali was written too stereotypical to do much good despite the applaudable acting of Quinn. But the main issue was that none of the characters made sense when their stories were aligned. Apart they each made for compelling screen-time but when woven into one story there was no cohesive reason for their actions. It is the common problem of trying to do too much. Less would have given this a lot more.
I could have easily accepted one story or the other. Dana struggling with her engagement to Ben (Jay Duplass) after running into an old college flame (Finn Wittrock), all while faced with her father’s apparent infidelity is doable. Just as engaging is the parents journey. How do a married couple like Alan (Turturro) and Pat (Edie Falco) end up so distant from each other. The riffs were gradual but brought them to a place of complacency in their marriage. There is a scene with Pat in a bar that is so out of place with the rest of the film but at the same time so very powerful. It gets lost in the midst of everything else going on. In fact much of the more dramatic moments wan due to the fact that the audience has too many paths to follow.
Again the cast is superb. The scenes with John and Edie are amazing. The film is set in the 1990’s and when these two are together on screen you get a feel of the impactful dramas of that era. When two hurt souls are lashing out over years of anger and frustration but still bound by a love they don’t recognize. Same with Duplass and Slate. It is a different generation yet you see the beginnings of what could easily fester into a future like her parents. The one aspect that will turn viewers off is the unapologetic hypocrisy of the characters. There is a lot of “the pot calling the kettle black” in this one and it is never used for growth but completely ignored in the writing.
We are far enough removed from the 1990’s that to watch films set in that decade now brings an element of fun and nostalgia. The music, clothes, and pre-internet existence is refreshing and fun. The filmmakers went the distance in finding classic settings and props to solidify the time period.
In spite of its blatant faults LANDLINE is still a powerful, emotional journey. Fans of grounded acting and family turmoil will enjoy the 90 minutes. It is rated R for sexual content, language and drug use. This is a new generation of relationship dramedy and those who prefer their dialogue in the vein of Hanks and Ryan will flinch at this one. I give it 3.5 out of 5 trench coats. If LANDLINE does anything though it reminded me how much I love Jenny Slate. To see her levels of emotion in this one – quirky, broken, confused – was a delight.