★ ★ ★ ☆
Theses days the word landline conjures up a specific retro feel. It harkens back to a time before everyone played Candy Crush on their mobile devices and when pay phones dotted the landscape. That’s the world where the new Jenny Slate dramedy “Landline” takes place.
It’s New York City, 1995. Dana Jacobs (Slate) is a layout artist at Paper Magazine when she isn’t at Blockbuster with her fiancée Ben (Jay Duplass) agonizing over what movie to rent. Younger sister Ali (Abby Quinn) is as free-spirited as her sibling is buttoned down.
“You’re like a piece of toilet paper stuck to my shoe,” Dana says to Ali. “You are the embodiment of constipation,” Ali snaps back.
Despite their differences the sisters bond when Ali discovers erotic poetry her father Alan (John Turturro) wrote for a woman who is not his wife Pat (Edie Falco). Their disgust for his actions brings them together, despite the fact that Dana has thrown off the shackles of engagement and embarked on a secret journey of self-discovery with Nate (Finn Wittrock). “I am flailing,” she says. “Trying to figure out if the life I have picked for myself is the one that I want.” “We are a family of cheaters!” Ali exclaims.
“Landline” uses infidelity as a backdrop for a study of partnership and family. Everyone’s relationship is teetering on the edge and yet this is a hopeful movie, a film that suggests monogamy is viable when given room to breathe.
“Obvious Child” director Gillian Robespierre brings a strong ensemble together, elevating the material with strong performances. Duplass is suitably milquetoast as Ben, the dull but lovable fiancée. Turturro and Falco breathe life into characters that in lesser hands might have been caricatures or worse, simply a plot device to support the sisters’ story.
The stars here, however, are Slate and Quinn. They look like sisters but their chemistry extends beyond the skin deep. Slate’s giggles and affectionate asides—“You’re a weird little bird.”—feel authentic, as though these two have a long shared history that predates anything we see on the screen. They bring humanity and sympathy to the film despite their foibles.
“Landline” is an engaging portrait of broken relationships in an analogue time. It’s a gently heart tugging story about the consequences of breaking relationship rules. There are jokes and there are tears but mainly “Landline” has a wistful tone that gets under your skin.
3 ½ STARS