Landline is a family drama set in Manhattan in the 1990s. As the title alludes, this is a time before cell phones, so things were slightly different. At the core of the film are interwoven stories of struggles with identity and delimiting the self within relationships. It is a valiant effort directed and co-written by Gillian Robespierre, of Obvious Child fame. Robespierre, normally a funny voice here focuses on unraveling a dysfunctional family dynamic and the relationships within it.
The film opens on Dana (Jenny Slate) having sex in the woods with her fiancée Ben (Jay Duplass). In a seemingly daring and exciting sexual escapade, Slate appears to be bored with the entire experience. Right after that they jump in the family car with her mother Pat (Edie Falco), her father Alan (John Turturro) and her sister Ali (Abby Quinn). In the first few scenes it is established that this is a loving and playful family, though heavy with tension. Yeah, what else is new?
Dana and Ben soon go to a college friend’s party, where Dana re-connects with an old flame. And, you guessed it, sparks fly setting the entire film into motion. Thankfully, the film is not entirely focused on this relationship. We also learn that younger sister Ali has a secret of her own; she likes to party, hard. One night she also becomes aware that her father, a copywriter by day and budding poet on the side, is having an affair. Ali sets on a quest to catch and expose him.
The tangled and somewhat predictable web in Landline shows that each of these characters, while hiding something, is also searching for their true self. It is indeed a conundrum that the web of deceit for each of these turns out to be a conduit for finding things about themselves that were missing or hidden. Slate, known for her very funny delivery style gives a very passionate and raw performance, almost as though she is recalling or retelling a personal story. Turturro is equally moving, with a heartrending performance that unveils his character’s lack of self-esteem and search for that fire.
Strong performances notwithstanding, Landline is still lacking when it comes to execution. The film does not successfully exploit its premise, as it focuses on too many things at once. The cast is then pulled in different directions, and I was left wondering what the main story was and who were the supporting characters.
The most exciting thing about Landline is that it’s set in the 1990s and for those of us who grew up in that time, there will be lots of peculiar things that will be relatable and reminiscent of that time. There are, of course, some funny moments here and there, and some easy laughs, but Landline is more concerned with how hard relationships can get and the work it takes to both damage and repair them.
Landline runs 96 minutes and is rated R. On Thursday, July 27, O Cinema Wynwood will host a special screening as part of its Dinner & A Movie series (details here). Besides a theatrical run at O Cinema Wynwood, it opens in South Florida on Friday, July 28, at AMC Sunset Place, AMC Aventura and the Regal South Beach 18. It will be playing at the E Street Cinema and Georgetown 14 in Washington, DC. For nationwide screenings, please click here. A screener link was provided by Amazon Pictures for the purposes of this review.