Landline

landline-rev Landline (2017)    Amazon Studios/Comedy-Drama    RT: 97 minutes    Rated R (sexual content, language, drug use)    Director: Gillian Robespierre    Screenplay: Elisabeth Holm and Gillian Robespierre    Music: Chris Bordeaux, Clyde Lawrence and Jordan Cohen    Cinematography: Chris Teague    Release date: August 4, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Jenny Slate, Edie Falco, Abby Quinn, Jay Duplass, John Turturro, Finn Wittrock, Marquis Rodriguez, Amy Carlson, Ali Ahn, Jordan Carlos, India Menuez.

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 If one were to list the greatest discoveries of the new millennium, Jenny Slate would be at the top of the list. She’s a true comic find. She’s one of those naturally funny people who could elicit laughs reciting a soliloquy from a Shakespearean tragedy. She has this voice that brings to mind Smurfette attempting a Cyndi Lauper impersonation (maybe I’m the only one that hears this, I don’t know). Slate is at her best playing slightly kooky characters like Donna, the foul-mouthed stand-up comedian dealing with an unplanned pregnancy in 2014’s Obvious Child. Although she did a single-season stint on SNL (and dropped the f-bomb on live TV on her first show), it was Obvious Child that thrust her into the spotlight. She reunites with director Gillian Robespierre for Landline, a comedy-drama about the effects of infidelity on an already dysfunctional family.

 landlinePerhaps “dysfunctional” is overstating it. The Jacobs family isn’t exactly Jerry Springer material. The two sisters snipe at each other. The parents are bored with each other. There are definite communication issues. I guess they’re like any American family right down to the girls’ reluctance to tell Mom what they found out about Dad.

 Set in 1995, 17-year-old Ali (newcomer Quinn) has hit that rebellious phase. She cuts school to do drugs and have sex with her not-boyfriend Jed (Rodriguez, 3 Generations). She sneaks out to go to all-night raves. She’s indifferent about college. Almost everything she says is caustic. Her older sister Dana (Slate) is engaged to Ben (Duplass, Beatriz at Dinner), a nice guy always trying to please his fiancee. For some reason, she’s unhappy and decides to cheat on him with old college friend (Wittrock, Unbroken) she encounters at a party. Guilt causes her to move back in with her family until she sorts out her feelings.

 One night, Ali finds poetry written by her father Alan (Turturro, The Big Lebowski) on a floppy disc. The problem is that it’s written for somebody known only as “C”. Obviously he’s cheating on her mother Pat (Falco, Nurse Jackie). Ali confides in Dana about this as she has no idea how to go about breaking the news to Mom. Not that they have that great a relationship anyway. Mom is always on Ali’s back about college and keeping her grades up and not staying out late. Ali just wants to be left alone. Dad’s always the good guy who tells Pat to ease up on the kid. Meanwhile, Dana seems to be in the middle of a nervous breakdown with out-of-character behavior like calling out sick from work and getting her eyebrow pierced (of course it gets infected later). She wants to come clean to Ben without hurting him.

 I like Landline just not as much as Obvious Child. It has its funny moments but it’s not as consistent as the previous Slate-Robespierre collaboration. I like the 1995 setting and the references to very 90s things like Blockbuster Video, the sitcom Mad About You, Hillary Clinton, Lorena Bobbitt and the movie Curly Sue. Slate is good even if the jokes tend to be at her expense. She brings some dramatic heft to her role with her character’s fragile mental state due to guilt. Quinn is also great as the smart, sharp-tongued Ali who not-so-quietly resents her father for his transgression. Slate and Quinn have great chemistry together. They bond and grow closer over their father’s infidelity. Falco does well as a woman ignored by her family too long. What’s most interesting about Landline is how it shows the toxic effect of keeping secrets. You can’t just lock them away in some mental storage facility and forget about them. Secrets tend to fester and eat away at your very being. Anger and resentment build up. It’s a highly destructive force. Some things can be fixed, others cannot. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before but Landline says these things in a way that makes you not mind hearing them again. 

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