Writer/director Gillian Robespierre and actor Jenny Slate got a lot of deserved attention for their 2014 film, Obvious Child, which tackled the idea of abortion with humor and grace. For their second collaboration, Landline, they’re taking on another taboo topic — infidelity — in much the same way.
Set in the mid-1990s, the film centers around a family that doesn’t quite have it together. There’s older sister Dana (Slate), who’s in a bland marriage with Ben (Jay Duplass). There’s younger sister Ali (Abby Quinn), who’s going through a bit of a rebellious phase. And there are parents Alan (John Turturro) and Pat (Edie Falco), whose marriage doesn’t seem to be in tip-top shape either.
After Ali discovers what might be evidence on the family’s computer of Alan having an affair, the two sisters start questioning their own lots in life. Dana reacts by looking for some excitement with her friend, Nate (Finn Wittrock). Ali starts to go even further down the rabbit hole of drugs than she already had, leaving the house at all hours of the night.
Robespierre does a solid job of establishing the family dynamics, but she seems to settle for surface-level observations. Each of the family members has his or her own set of issues, but none of them are ever truly explored, leaving the audience in the dark about anyone’s motivations.
And without clear intentions, there’s never any real emotional connection. There have been plenty of movies that have explored infidelity in meaningful ways, so even though the film isn’t going for straight-up drama, it deserves more than just a token nod at the seriousness of the various situations.
It’s also never quite clear why this particular movie had to be called Landline or set in the ‘90s. Yes, landline-based phone calls are made on occasion, but not so often that it seems like a defining point of the film. And even though jokes are made at ‘90s fashion, computers, and music, their presence is not so intrinsic that the film couldn’t have taken place in modern times.
Slate shares the spotlight more than she did in Obvious Child, but she still winds up being the star of the film. Relative newcomer Quinn is a nice foil for her, giving off a vibe similar to Broad City’s Ilana Glazer that should bode well for her career. Turturro and Falco are just okay, never delivering the goods like they have in other more prominent roles.
If you’re looking for a run-of-the-mill dramedy, Landline is perfectly fine. But with so many better options out there this summer, it needed to be much, much more to deserve moviegoers' attention.