In a crowded sea of male-dominated Hollywood films and paper-thin female characters, little independent gems like “Landline” generate even more of an electrifying spark. Writer / director Gillian Robespierre follows up her abortion dramedy “Obvious Child” (which earned an Honorable Mention on my Top 10 Movies of 2014 list) with a look at a dysfunctional Manhattan family that bonds over lying and cheating.
The film is set in 1995 and features many intermittent references to the time period, from smoke-filled bars to record stores with cd listening stations to a discussion about Helen Hunt’s unfortunate wardrobe choices on “Mad About You.” The pre-cell phone era setting isn’t exactly crucial in order to tell the story, but it manages to work without being gimmicky at all. It actually makes perfect sense as a method of taking social media and 24/7 connectivity out of the equation, even if the film does feature the prerequisite car singalong to a pop hit from the era (in this case, it’s appropriately Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love”).
Dana (Jenny Slate, in what is easily one of the best performances of her career) and her sweetly devoted fiancée Ben (Jay Duplass) are dealing with their own twentysomething relationship issues while mom and dad (an excellent John Turturro and Edie Falco) are wrapped up in their own accusations of cheating and falling out of love. Dana’s high school senior sister Ali (Abby Quinn) is a rebellious, drug experimenting teen suffering through the trials of impending adulthood and the struggles of becoming her own person. The family may be flawed as individuals and as a whole, but their doubts and insecurities are what makes them endearing and all the more human.
Robespierre and her co-writer Elisabeth Holm have a beautiful knack for penning honest, credible and fully realized characters, especially when it comes to women. I haven’t seen such a great representation (or understanding) of the female psyche in a movie in a long time, and the script rings with an eye-opening truth that shines a light into the relationships we have between lovers, friends and family. These are complex, fully developed characters that provide remarkable insight, and their organic (and sometimes raunchy) dialogue speaks the truth — no matter how painful that may be.
The movie is at times very funny yet also surprisingly tender with a slightly subversive feel. It’s an accurate, realistic exploration of how family bonds grow stronger through the cheating, lying and discord that is life.
This film was screened and reviewed at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.