The takeaway from Landline, the sophomore feature from director Gillian Robespierre, is that people are bad and relationships are complicated. Neither of those opinions is particularly fresh or exciting, but at least there is some takeaway. Most of the movie consists of people talking at, and acting like jerks toward, each other, so if those two concepts didn’t come through, the film would’ve been an outright failure. As it is? It’s just kind of okay.
Landline follows a family and the drama contained within it—caused almost exclusively by greedy and selfish decisions made by its principal cast. Dana (Jenny Slate) has moved out, has a decent job, and is engaged to Ben (Jay Duplass). But she meets Nate (Finn Wittrock) at a party and eventually cheats. Whoops! Meanwhile, her sister, Ali (Abby Quinn), is still living at home and going through typically teenage rebellion. She discovers some poems her father (John Turturro) wrote to a woman who isn’t her mother (Edie Falco). She decides to dedicate her time to investigate whether this is a real affair or a fantasy.
The plot doesn’t get more complicated than that. Dana moves home to “help” her sister—while continuing her own affair—and Ali does typical teenage things and also tries to find evidence of her father’s cheating. People talk and accomplish nothing, treating each other like garbage for most of the film, make some small revelations but ultimately don’t learn a whole lot, and then the movie ends. It’s not bad but it’s not very enjoyable, either.
For us to be able to tolerate a bunch of jerks being mean to each other for 90 minutes, you need something else to hook us—otherwise, the experience is an unpleasant one. If it all leads to some great insight, then the movie can still be worthwhile. Or, if the film provides us with a lot of humor throughout, that makes the characters less irritating—at least we’re laughing! Landline has a couple of laughs but nowhere near enough. It pales in comparison to Obvious Child in that department.
Landline is a mediocre dramedy about a bunch of bad people doing bad things to each other.
Now, that isn’t to say that Landline is boring. Things happen—and happen frequently—and the characters have a bit of depth to them. It’s just that the overwhelming feeling that comes from watching the movie is one of disappointment. It’s a letdown. You sit there for 90 minutes and hope that we’re all going to learn something, and then it all gets wrapped up in a bow and presented to us as a birthday present. It’s hard to accept that, especially after watching mess after mess. Self-induced messes, but messes nonetheless.
What Landline is missing, ultimately, is an emotionally compelling reason for us to watch. All of this mess is all well and good, but the film struggles to give us a reason to care about it. Without good enough characters, or laughs, or a more insightful point, what we’re left with is a bunch of people creating worse and worse situations for themselves, all while treating everyone else poorly. You can set that in 1995 and play all the alt-rock you want and it’s still tough to make it a palatable movie.
Landline‘s strongest aspect is its actors. When you’ve got parent characters played by John Turturro and Edie Falco, you know you’ve done a good job in the casting department. Jenny Slate is always reliable—although she doesn’t get to generate as many laughs as usual here—while Abby Quinn certainly nails teenage rebellion. Jay Duplass and Finn Wittrock are both underused a little bit, but it’s not their story. The acting is not the problem with Landline.
Landline is a mediocre dramedy about a bunch of bad people doing bad things to each other before, eventually, learning that maybe, just maybe, they shouldn’t do that as much, possibly. Individuals and relationships are messy, but to tolerate a movie like this one, we need some deeper insight, or more comedy, or an ending that doesn’t contradictorily want to tie everything up with a pretty little bow. It isn’t bad, and the actors are terrific, but it’s not a great watch or a particularly strong movie.
Conclusion: Landline is a mediocre dramedy.
Recommendation: If the premise interests you, Landline might be worth a VOD or Netflix watch.