From the writer and director of OBVIOUS CHILD, LANDLINE tries to cross comedy and drama, capturing the genre mixing magic once again. Observing the dynamics of family through sisterhood and infidelity, LANDLINE never quite dials into either genre and lacks a meaningful or memorable story.
Ali (Abby Quinn) is a typical high school teenager who is annoyed at her family and does dumb things like drug experimentation from time to time. However her adolescent rudeness isn’t as bad when compared to the cheating and deceit that follows the adults in her life. Dana (Jenny Slate) is Ali’s older sister. Engaged to Ben (Jay Duplass), Ali is beginning to have cold feet and strikes up an affair with an old boyfriend (Finn Wittrock). Through a file of emails, Dana and Ali discover that their father (John Turturro ) is cheating on their mother (Edie Falco). Finding humor in these painful moments, the struggling yet loving dynamic of family is put on full display.
Set in a 90’s era, LANDLINE delivers great atmosphere. From the music to historic events, the humor relies heavily on pop culture as the backdrop. The dated electronics and the lack of cell phones (thus the title) are all part of the charm of LANDLINE. As a 90’s high school kid, this aspect is almost enough to sell me entirely on the film. Unfortunately the bulk of the story deals with infidelity, which I always find to be a difficult subject to write humor around. Thankfully, the cheating has ramifications and the characters realize the hurtful nature of their terrible deeds. However, that subject does make it difficult to root for or sympathize with a character who knowingly chooses not to control the hurtful act.
Through some strong performances, LANDLINE almost works. Hiring veteran actors like John Turturro and Edie Falco grounds the film, making difficult scenes and topics work better than expected. Robespierre was smart to understand the importance of casting established talent that find sympathetic nuances in their characters. Newcomer Abby Quinn is excellent as the almost young adult dealing with the weight of being a teenager and witnessing the breaking of her family, doing the things they always taught her to be wrong. But the necessary ingredient is Jenny Slate who should be cast in far more films than her current number. Bringing an energy and joy, Slate’s humorous approach softens her despicable actions. It’s a tricky line and she does about as good as anyone could possibly do.
Writer and director Gillian Roberspierre turned heads In 2014 with her debut film OBVIOUS CHILD. Starring the comedic talents of Jenny Slate, the film was a funny and thoughtful observation about a woman dealing with abortion. Yes, it sounds quite controversial but the film broke the subject down to an individual in a surprisingly light yet dramatic manner.
But I’m not here to gush about OBVIOUS CHILD, instead I have to speak on my disappointment for LANDLINE. It’s not that the film is bad, it’s just not particularly good. Unlike Roberspierre’s screenplay for OBVIOUS CHILD, which was voted Best Adapted Screenplay in 2014 by the Kansas City Film Critics Circle, LANDLINE lacks the unique and humorous aspects necessary to create an engaging story. LANDLINE is okay at best, but its best should have been much better. Still, backed by some solid performances with a fun 90’s vibe, there is a certain charm in some of the scenes. LANDLINE offers a few cute moments but nothing that is particularly memorable. The funny parts aren’t funny enough and the drama never lands in an impactful way – a struggle that is nearly inevitable when trying to find humor in infidelity.