LANDLINE, drama, not rated, Center for Contemporary Arts, 2.5 chiles
The sophomore effort from the evocatively named writer and director Gillian Robespierre( Obvious Child) returns us to the communications challenged days of them id-1990s, when ubiquitous cellphones had not yet wiped out the last shreds of individual privacy and unreachable independence.
There is a scene early in the movie that will resonate with people of a certain age: An irate father storms into the bedroom where his sulky teenage daughter is chatting on the phone, and rips the instrument from the wall. The landline that lends this movie its name is basically there to fix the story in time, and Robespierre and her cast and production team do a good job of recreating an era so recent that it’s a bit of a shock to realize how dead and gone it is.
The story revolves around the Jewish-Italian Jacobs family, parented by dad Alan ( John Turturro) and mom Pat (Edie Falco), with two daughters — the twenty-something Dana ( Jenny Slate of Obvious Child) and the teenage Ali (Abby Quinn). It’s a concentration of fine acting in the service of an originality-deprived setting, the urban angst and youth culture much explored by filmmakers like Whit Stillman (The Last Days
of Disco) and Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused) during the decade in which this picture is set.
Relationships, and the ties that fail to bind, are the portfolio here. Using the shared family computer one night, Ali discovers a cache of erotic love poems written by her father to an unnamed woman. She and Dana try to sleuth out the secret while keeping it from their mother. Meanwhile, Dana, engaged to the nice, nerdy Ben ( Jay Duplass), falls off the fidelity wagon into a premarital jitters fling with an old flame (Finn Wittrock,
The Big Short), while Ali experiments with uncommitted sex with a high school pal. Only mom seems to be above this sexual fray, but she’s a driven businesswoman who treats her husband with contempt and has long since forgotten what attracted her to him in the first place.
What the movie lacks is a compelling sense of why it needed to be made, but it fills out its lineaments with a script that lands some good dialogue. Robespierre may not be revolutionary, but she has a solid bourgeois handle on what she’s doing. — Jonathan Richards
Bathroom vanities: Abby Quinn, Edie Falco, and Jenny Slate