Landline, the comedy-drama from director Gillian Robespierre (Obvious Child), is a well-made, well-performed film that mines the same thematic territory explored by Woody Allen in his classic films from the 1970’s (Manhattan, Annie Hall). The film follows a family of upwardly-mobile professionals and intellectuals as they sort out their lives and loves in 1990’s New York City.
The patriarch of the family (John Turturro) is an advertising exec with ambitions to be a playwright who may or may not be cheating on his wife (Edie Falco). Their elder daughter (Jenny Slate) is engaged to be married when a flame from the past causes her to question her choice of mate. Their younger daughter (played by talented newcomer Abby Quinn) stumbles across computer messages/files that may be communication between her father and a mistress or may simply be character sketches and notes for one of his dramas.
The narrative examines how love can change over time, evolving from newness and passion into the fear of a permanent commitment into the acceptances and compromises of being “comfortable” in middle age. Each character finds himself or herself positioned somewhere on this relationship continuum, and we see the prices they pay when they try to send their lives in new directions.
Landline unfolds so smoothly that it’s easy to underestimate the talent on display. Turturro and Falco embody the maxim that the best acting looks like no acting at all. Abby Quinn is a stand-out as their teen-aged daughter. She effortlessly holds the screen with her veteran co-stars and delivers a modulated performance that avoids the melodrama that can result from less experience in front of the camera. Slate’s performance feels a bit shrill, but her neurotic character is intended to grate on the audience’s nerves, and that she does.
With its “Sundancy” vibe, Landline harkens back to the “dramedies” of the 1990’s (Singles, Kicking and Screaming, Life is Sweet). It combines elements of a mid-life crisis drama with the comedy of a coming-of-age film. We have seen this type of subject matter many times over the years, and the only knock on Landline is its lack of an original concept. However, with its solid cast and the assured directing of Gillian Robespierre, it’s a cut above the average film that emerges from Park City every year.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.