Jenny Slate pairs up with her “Obvious Child” team again in “Landline,” a family dramedy set in 1990s Manhattan. The film skates by on the appeal of the setting to a large degree, serving up Zima and a satisfying soundtrack, but there is also a strong family dynamic, well-portrayed by a great cast, amid the pleasures of ‘90s nostalgia.
Slate plays Dana, a young woman who lives with her fiancé (Jay Duplass) in a relationship that feels a little too comfortable even before they are married. Her younger sister is a defiant high school senior, Ali, played with a powerful combination of anger and vulnerability by Abby Quinn. The girls’ ferociously intelligent, bickering parents are played by Edie Falco and John Turturro, a wonderful onscreen pair. Falco resents their good cop/bad cop dynamic with their daughter, and theirs is a well-played representation of parenthood.
Ali finds a chink in her angry, know-it-all armor when she stumbles upon evidence her father is having an affair. It turns out there is something she really cares about, and the setup does such a good job of showing how much this teenager relies on family stability, specifically as she experiments with moving away from it. She may not take her own relationship with her sometimes-boyfriend seriously, but her parents’ marriage and even her sister’s engagement are constants that Ali didn’t realize she counted on until they were threatened.
Dana gets a wandering eye, too, when she runs into a college friend at a party. It’s unclear whether his appeal is that he is from an earlier time in her life, or if she really prefers him to her fiancé. That’s what makes the situation interesting, in that the relationships are also about a longing for a different time, not just a different person.
Jenny Slate is amusing and believable, but I thought she had more feel for her character, which was better developed, in “Obvious Child,” and she is upstaged by her younger sister. Their relationship is my favorite in the film. It becomes very moving to see them together and gives us a great window into the life of their entire family.
The performances are all good, but the script doesn’t always deliver. While the story is well-written overall, the dialogue is not always convincing, especially in a series of emotional climaxes and confrontations. This is just a nice little relationship film with some extremely recognizable plot points. If you’re going to tell a rather unsurprising story, the predictability should be mitigated by some well-written wisdom. It’s not unusual for young people to be afraid of getting married, so when they finally discuss it, the hackneyed must be avoided. Some of these lines could have used another draft.
“Landline” is worth watching if only for the combination of John Turturro and Edie Falco. These two veteran actors create a deeply felt, nuanced and complicated partnership that feels unusually equitable despite their many problems. They show us the years spent together, in flashes, and this story, despite some flaws, is in very good hands with these two.
The family in “Landline” is believable, funny and maybe a bit too recognizable to make for a truly memorable film, but their story is worthwhile in its own quiet way.
“Landline” is currently available to rent.