SFIFF Opening Night & Landline

The San Francisco International Film Festival opened Wednesday night with the relationship comedy Landline. It was a good movie, and overall a good show.

As is usual with big festival events at the Castro, most of the seats downstairs were blocked off as reserved. If you weren’t some sort of VIP, you were pretty much limited to the first few rows and the balcony. (Luckily, I like to sit up front.)

No matter where they were sitting, everyone got to enjoy the traditional Castro organ concert, which started a few minutes before the official 7:00 curtain time. The concert ended at 7:12, after which this year’s festival trailer opened the event proper.

Introductions before the movie

The introductions were wonderfully short. Festival Executive Director Noah Cowan referred to the country’s current political state, telling us to “Let the movies [in the festival] challenge and inspire you in these arduous times.” Director of Programming Rachel Rosen and Landline’s co-producer/co-screenwriter Elisabeth Holm spoke briefly before the show.

After all, everyone was there for the movie.

This essentially serious comedy looks at relationships, both romantic and filial, and finds both humor and insight. It’s all set in 1995. Dana (Jenny Slate) lives with her fiancé but is having second thoughts. Her teenage sister Ali (Abby Quinn) acts out adolescent rebellion to a degree that bewilders her already unhappily married parents (John Turturro and Edie Falco–the movie’s only readily recognizable faces). The film’s insights ring true, if not all that original, and most of the jokes are grounded in reality. We laugh because we see the common human frailty of the characters.

The film, which was produced by Amazon, will probably be released theatrically this summer. I give it a B+.

After the movie, Holm, Slate, and Quinn came on stage for a Q&A, moderated by Rosen. Some highlights (the quotes may not be entirely accurate):

  • Where did the germ of the idea come from? Holm: The answer to that question changes by where I am in my menstrual cycle. Both me and Gillian [director and co-writer Gillian Robespierre] came from families where our dads left our moms for other women.
  • On the 1990s setting: Holm: It started with our own experiences growing up in the 90s. It was important that the period shouldn’t be a punchline, but a seamless part of the movie. It’s a time when people were not using email and text. We wanted to be true to the period without making too much of it. [For what it’s worth, I had at least two email addresses in 1995.]
  • We cared about showing sex from a woman’s point of view. It was vulnerable and confusing.
  • On the title, Landline: Holm: For me, landlines are grounded things that represent homes. The 90s were the last time everyone had them.
  • On working with Turturro and Edie Falco: Holm: I was grateful and humble that they said our words out loud. Slate: I just tried to watch them and not interrupt.

There was a party after the show, but I skipped it. I needed a good night’s sleep.