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Film Review: 'Landline' - Life in the '90s

Landline is non-judgmental in its portrayal of infidelity, family dynamics and relationships

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(L–R) Abby Quinn, Edie Falco, and Jenny Slate in Landline, an Amazon Studios release. Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Set in 1995, during the days of payphones, mixed tapes and floppy disks, the aptly named Landline is packed with nostalgia, offbeat comedy and drama. Co-written by Gillian Robespierre and Elisabeth Holm, and directed by Robespierre, the film stars Jenny Slate and Abby Quinn as sisters in the middle of a fractious family headed by Edie Falco and John Turturro. Lies threaten to tear the family apart as parents and children wrestle with their own secrets, while an undercurrent of familial bond ties them together.

Nostalgia permeates Landline as we glimpse an era that, while not really so far away in years, seems a world away from the present-day obsession with smartphones, laptop computers and instant gratification. There is time to stop at the music store to listen to the latest CD through headphones. Quarters are a necessary tool for making phone calls on the go and if the other person isn’t home, you have to try again later. People are forced to speak face-to-face, over the telephone, or not at all, ensuring it’s easy to go off the grid and avoid that awkward conversation, at least for a time.

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Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Slate and Quinn’s relationship as sisters Dana and Ali is volatile, yet they care a great deal for each other underneath it all. Through the turmoil and laughter of their story, we get to see a great many facets of sibling dynamics. Poised on the threshold of marriage, Dana struggles to commit to the life she has chosen for herself. Torn between what she sees as boring and the thrill of illicit excitement, Slate’s portrayal of this conflicted young woman is raw, endearing and humorous at the right moments. Her story explores whether the initial rush of the forbidden is sustainable, and is an important commentary on the inner conflict many people face. Quinn’s portrayal of Ali, the rebellious younger sister, includes just the right amount of eye-rolling and frustration that is typical of the teenage years and yet, her strong sense of self adds a touch of maturity.

Each character has their own imperfections that they try to cover up from the rest of their family. Landline explores the consequences of keeping such secrets and makes the point that in the end, things like this usually have a way of coming out. However, it is precisely these secrets, these imperfections, that make the characters so relatable. Writers Robespierre and Holm are not afraid to present infidelity in a stark, confusing reality that reserves judgement and explores the subtle nuances of why situations like this occur.

Landline shines in its portrayal of the ups and downs of familial and romantic relationships. We get to see the inherent bond of love portrayed in various forms, once arguments have been pushed aside. Some scenes make for uncomfortable viewing, but then again, that’s what life is all about.

Landline opens in San Francisco on Friday, July 28. 

Landline shines in its portrayal of the ups and downs of familial and romantic relationships. We get to see the inherent bond of love portrayed in various forms, once arguments have been pushed aside. Some scenes make for uncomfortable viewing, but then again, that’s what life is all about.
Landline shines in its portrayal of the ups and downs of familial and romantic relationships. We get to see the inherent bond of love portrayed in various forms, once arguments have been pushed aside. Some scenes make for uncomfortable viewing, but then again, that’s what life is all about.