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Review: Landline

August 4, 2017

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

It’s the fall of 1995, and Ali (Abby Quinn) is a teenager who lives with her parents Alan (John Turturro) and Pat (Edie Falco) in a Manhattan apartment.  Meanwhile, her older sister Dana (Jenny Slate) is living with her fiancé Ben (Jay Duplass), and on the surface their family seems to be doing well.  But there is a lot of discontent bubbling beneath the surface.

When Ali discovers that their father is having an affair, and Dana starts pursuing a fling of her own with a cute college friend (Finn Wittrock) and moves back in with her family to sort things out, their unit comes close to falling apart.  But through this process, Ali and Dana are able to reconnect and grow closer as sisters, as Alan is forced to confront his own shortcomings and Pat comes to terms with where her life has ended up.

Directed by Gillian Robespierre, reuniting with star Jenny Slate after their breakout 2014 film Obvious Child, Landline is another well written character study that walks a fine line between comedy and drama.  Like a Woody Allen or Nicole Holofcener movie, the film works by allowing its characters to be messy and make human mistakes, while also showing them through an often sympathetic and non-judgemental lens.  These people are flawed and imperfect, but that’s precisely what makes them believable and even endearingly relatable to watch.

The film is set at a time when VHS tapes and Blockbuster were still a thing, computers were clunky and information was stored on floppy discs, and Hillary Clinton was appearing on TV as the First Lady, wearing pink pantsuits that provided fashion inspiration to millions of women.  While this does give a nostalgia element to Landline, it thankfully doesn’t distract from the actual story, and also provides a way to forces its characters to actually talk to each other and hash things out in real life, instead of just texting or chatting online like too many people are apt to do now.

While the story doesn’t really cover any new ground, and it’s not a huge shock where things are going to end up, Landline is a solid relationship dramedy that does a good job at what it sets out to do, and it’s all enjoyable to watch.  The film is elevated by strong performances from its ensemble cast, with Jenny Slate and Abby Quinn having great chemistry together as sisters whose approaches to life couldn’t be more different, as John Turturro and Edie Falco bring nuance to their roles as the parents.

Landline is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto, and will be expanding to more theatres across Canada next week.

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