It’s hard watching Landline and not wonder why the film is set in 1995 – but then again, some of the joy comes from arguing, why not? The decade that seems not so long ago but feels real dated and awkward on screen is an ancillary character in Gillian Robespierre’s new feature comedy: it’s sole purpose is to refresh, in a way, another tale of family drama.
Landline tracks two sisters as they deal with their own youthful relationships in the shadow of their mother and father’s connection that seem to be fraying. There is also frizzy hair, baggy jeans, and phone booths.
Twentysomething Dana (Jenny Slate) and teenage Ali (Abby Quinn) don’t exactly get along, bickering and sniping at each other at family engagements and in passing. Their mother (Edie Falco) tries to instill discipline while the patriarch of the family (John Turturro) has one foot in the family and another in his professional sphere. They’re commonplace roles but each actor, despite their respective character’s noticeable flaws and irritating behavior, brings a winning quality.
That’s necessary too, because Landline doesn’t dabble in the cunning or the especially dramatic. There are ebbs and flows to this story of siblings coming together and of relationships straining and mending. Dana has a long term boyfriend that she wanders from, while Ali is discovering sex and romance for the first time. And when the two unearth secret poems hidden on their dad’s floppy disk (because it’s the nineties!), they question the actions and decisions of their parents as well as themselves.
The setting does offer one thing: confinement. The New York City these young women live in seems closed off – when Dana learns of the revelation, she holes up with her Ali in their parents home. The film opens with an oppressive car ride. Even when they go out, the clubs and bars seem stuffy. There aren’t exactly a lot of landlines in the film, but the idea that these people aren’t as connected and thus still need each other is certainly present.
Landline has some funny and charmed moments, slowly building toward a predictable albeit sweet finale. It’s of a specific period and place, but the situations seem universal and the story, for better or worse, timeless.