LANDLINE: A Matter of Trust

Sisters bond in the latest film from director Gillian Robespierre.

Landline is the second teaming of director Gillian Robespierre and actress Jenny Slate, who won over indie film audiences with the sharp comedy of Obvious Child. Robespierre and her fellow screenwriter Elisabeth Holm based their new project in the ’90s of their adolescence. The comedic drama centers around two daughters and their mother facing issues of truth and deception.

Slate’s Dana, employed at a magazine, is engaged to Ben (Jay Duplass, Transparent) and feels drawn to attractive friend from college Nate (Finn Wittrock, The Big Short). After a night of raving, her teenage sister Ali (Abby Quinn) stumbles upon erotic poetry their father has written about a mystery woman.

The fraying threads of the marriage between parents Pat (Edie Falco) and Alan (John Turturro) become thinner as the film progresses. Their parenting styles differ; Alan’s desire to be the cool dad leaves Pat as the disciplinarian. With the framing of shots and the unspoken tension between the characters, the lack of intimacy and support between the two is obvious.

Meanwhile, Alan and Dana’s separate infidelities serve as a weird parallel. Dana judges her father for his possible paramour, but deflects criticism about her own similar choices. Slate’s character makes destructive decisions during her quarter-life crisis, and the actress is so adorably charming in the role that you find yourself pulling for Dana to get her shit together.

Slate and Quinn balance each other well. Overcoming the difference in their ages, the sisters grow ever closer as they splash drunkenly in a community pool or search out their dad’s lover. Robespierre and Holm’s screenplay is infused with equal parts silly humor and taut emotion.

The story may belong to the women in this film, but Pat’s characterization seems limited in comparison to the dimensionality allowed her daughters. A bar scene, when she goes out on her own and tears up the dance floor, offers her character a moment of independence and a sort of glorious revelry. We see a quick glimpse of Pat as her own person.

There are numerous cultural references in Landline, from the public payphones to the songs included in the soundtrack (ranging from Steve Winwood to P.J. Harvey to 10,000 Maniacs). The film doesn’t overly dwell in nostalgia, although that is a happy side effect (I listened to Blind Man’s Zoo the next morning on Spotify). Landline gets that and many other things so very right.

Landline opens Friday in Austin at AFS Cinema, Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar & Regal Arbor.

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