B+ Relationship comedy
Written by Elisabeth Holm & Gillian Robespierre
Directed by Gillian Robespierre
This essentially serious comedy finds laughs in human relationships, both romantic and filial. It’s very funny, but it’s also touching and true to life.
The central story concerns two sisters living in New York in 1995 – a time when the Internet was just beginning to become part of our daily lives. The older sister, Dana (Jenny Slate) lives with her fiancé, but is having second thoughts. She starts an affair with another man – one who seems cuter, more spontaneous, and sexier. What’s more, she moves back into her parents’ home, allegedly because her younger sister needs her.
That younger sister certainly needs something. Ali (Abby Quinn) is a high-school senior caught in the full force of adolescent rebellion. She cuts class constantly. She sneaks off to spend time with her boyfriend. She smokes – both cigarettes and pot. She goes clubbing when she’s supposed to be grounded. She tries heroin.
Indie stars John Turturro and Edie Falco play the girls’ hapless parents. They have no idea how to handle Ali, and they can’t figure out why Dana has returned home. Worse, their relationship is in serious trouble. The wife treats her husband (a struggling playwright earning a living writing advertising copy) as a useless idiot.
While the parents drift apart, the two sisters bond. Dana brings Ali into her confidence, telling her about infidelity. Ali, meanwhile has accidentally discovered that their father is having his own adulterous affair.
There’s a lot of sex in this movie, but little of it can be called erotic. All the sex scenes are awkward and most of them are funny. People are having sex at the wrong time, in the wrong mood, for the wrong reasons, and usually with the wrong person.
Like almost all American films about sex, there’s no nudity. Considering the awkward nature of the sex scenes, it was probably the right decision.
The 1990s setting doesn’t mean much. The story could be set in 2017 just as easily. The only real difference would be the phones.
Which brings up another issue: Why is the film called Landline? I’m not sure if the word even existed in 1995, but it certainly wasn’t in common usage. According to co-screenwriter Elisabeth Holm, “For me, landlines are grounded things that represent homes. The 90s were the last time everyone had them.” That still doesn’t really explain the title.
Whatever the movie is called, its insights ring true. They’re not especially original or profound. But most of the jokes feel grounded in reality. We laugh because we see the common human frailty of the characters.