Time to party like it’s 1995!
You remember 1995, right? It was a different time, especially in the way we communicated. Nowadays, with the invention of smartphones, the “cloud,” and even Wi-Fi in the subway system, you can connect to anyone, anytime, and anywhere. Back then, however, the best way to communicate with others was on a landline telephone, occasionally through email, and of course, talking in person. Landline takes us back to that time.
In Landline, a married couple, Pat and Alan (played by Edie Falco and John Turturro, respectively), are the proud, yet weary parents of two sisters. The older sister, Dana (Jenny Slate) has moved out of the family home and is engaged to her boyfriend, Ben (Jay Duplass). The younger sister, Allie (Abby Quinn) is dealing with the issues many teenagers face, including drug use, underage sex, and rebelling against parents. One night, while going through the family computer, Allie comes across a folder containing sensual emails written by her father, only they are not addressed to her mother. She confides this to Dana, who just recently started having an affair with an old college friend. Wanting to keep her affair a secret from Ben, Dana decides to move in back home and aids Allie in figuring out who might be their father’s possible mistress.
It seems that every decade, there is at least one nostalgic film set 20 years prior, with some of the best examples being Grease (1978), portraying the 50’s, and Dazed & Confused (1993), depicting the 70’s. Landline tries to do the same with the 90’s, making callbacks to the popular things of that time like dinosaurs, mix tapes, and Steve Urkel. However, unlike the previously mentioned films, Landline does not exactly have as many period details or songs, aside from the previously mentioned callbacks. In addition, the dialogue does not sound 90’s. So why is this film set in the 90’s?
Well, I believe that director/co-writer Gillian Robespierre set the film in 1995 to make a statement regarding something that is timeless: communication in families. For example, when Dana moves back into the house to avoid Ben, she only makes one phone call to him in two weeks, believing that is all that is required to keep her relationship with Ben while carrying on her extra-curricular love life. Another less technological example is Allie, leaving post-it notes for her worrisome mother on her pillow whenever she goes out at night, in order to avoid asking for permission. Even the sexual intercourse in this film expresses more frustration than communication between the characters.
As you can imagine, all of these relationships are bound to hit rock bottom at any moment, and when they do, the characters have no choice but to face their problems. The film does a good job handling these situations, criticizing the characters for their actions, but also giving the viewer enough of a reason to care about them (although Jay Duplass’ Ben can be a little grating, at times to the point where you may sympathize with Dana’s cheating). With that said, the acting in the film is good overall. However the real star is the sister-like chemistry between Jenny Slate and Abby Quinn. Every moment they are on screen, you believe that these two are sisters, and they work off of each other so well, that you don’t want the camera to cut away. Hopefully we can see more pairings of these actresses them in future films!
Landline is an ordinary, yet appealing depiction of a broken family and makes the statement that communication is vital to make a relationship work. While the film is not laugh-out-loud hilarious, it does have some funny moments, and I also have to give the filmmakers credit for tackling moments in a broken relationship that rarely get touched upon in movies, such as how complicated forgiving infidelity is. With accessible characters, good chemistry between the actors, and timeless dialogue, Landline shows that the need for good communication never goes out of style.