Landline, Gillian Robespierre’s sophomore effort, is an honest, messy, but gentle, look at relationships in and around a New York family in the mid 90’s.
The film’s title and setting create a communication barrier between the characters that is long antiquated compared to today’s hyper-connectivity, but it serves this story well as everyone tries to figure their shit out. The youngest of the family, Ali, is a grumpy teenager who might have uncovered her Dad’s cheating secret; her sister, Dana, might be getting cold feet with her fiance, Ben; and the two gravitate towards each other as they try to figure out and react to their slowly boiling drama.
Very much a hang out character study, Landline lets its characters talk and mull life over, with a charming script being played quite well across the board. There is never a big bring it all together moment, but all of the pieces fall into place along the way and we are totally buying into every characters’ decision. Robespierre wrote the script with Elisabeth Holm, and it feels so authentic, like the two of them having a conversation between sisters. I also really appreciated the way they unfolded information among the characters, secrets are all over the film, but it doesn’t feel devious ever. Again, the film constantly feels true and it gives its cast a lot to work with. Robespierre’s direction feels very loose and natural across much of the film, but there are a few nice cinematic shots and flourishes sprinkled throughout that made me wish we got a bit more of them. A particular montage near the end of the film was particularly impressive, totally selling me on the rekindling of a relationship without nearly any dialogue.
Jenny Slate re-teams with Robespierre (Obvious Child) and she nails the role. Funny and sincere, Slate gets to do a bit of everything in this film, but her vulnerability as she opens herself up is her best work I’ve seen yet. Slate plays, Dana, but she is nearly topped by the angsty perfection of Abby Quinn in the role of Ali. Quinn never feels like a stereotypical teen and plays off all of her seasoned co-stars with ease. John Turturro and Edie Falco play the girls’ parents and they both do a great job of playing the strains of their relationship without ever really confronting it. They do get one scene where everything comes to a head, but they both play it perfectly, never losing their cool or trying to take the drama to a place that doesn’t feel natural. Jay Duplass is solid as Ben, but he feels a bit unnatural compared to everyone else in the cast. Finn Wittrock is also quite convincing as a secret asshole, never overtly being awful, but playing it just under the surface throughout.
Landline is another quite good effort from Robespierre, as Slate and her seem to be quite the team. A charming family dramedy that is perfectly balancing both of those genres, it never feels too heavy or too slight. Robespierre remains a director to watch and I would love to see her get to tell a bit bigger story. She has a great grasp on her characters and makes them all relatable, even through any of their bad decisions. Landline is a fine little film.