“Meh” films are always the hardest to review because I have to figure out creative ways to somehow flesh out an unimpressed shoulder shrug into an entire article. I didn’t like Landline. I also didn’t dislike Landline. It wasn’t a particularly funny. It wasn’t particularly unfunny. It simply came and it went. It happened. It’s hard to say if I’ll even remember writing this review in a few weeks. If you’re a fan of writer/director Gillian Robespierre and actress Jenny Slate, then Landline is worth checking out just to see new, inoffensive content from the duo behind 2014’s Obvious Child, one of my favorite comedies ever.
Landline is set in New York City in 1995, for apparently no other reason than the film’s semi-autobiographical feel suggests similar events occurred to one of the screenwriters during that year. Except for a few characters mentioning the year 1995, I actually kept forgetting the film is a period piece. Oh yeah—you do see a floppy disk, though. The arbitrary setting isn’t a huge deal but is certainly emblematic of the same problem I see in so many semi-autobiographical comedies. Landline seems way too concerned with staying true to actual events and the narrative gets messy.
The gist of the film follows two sisters, the younger Ali (Abby Quinn) and the older Dana (Slate), who realize their father (John Turturro) is cheating on their mother (Edie Falco) when they discover erotic poetry on his computer. That’s where the floppy disk comes in. It’s still floppy because Turturro is a bad erotic poet. Zing! Anyway, this exacerbates the sisters’ other problems which sends the film diving headfirst into subplots galore.
Ali is a brilliant teenager struggling to get into a good university, struggling with her blossoming sexuality, struggling with drug use and struggling to make sense of the nuances of her parents’ complicated adulting. Dana is a brilliant 20-something struggling with her fiancée, struggling to figure out the person she’s going to be, struggling with her dad’s affair and struggling with her own affair and so on. Turturro and Falco are present, but Landline never figures out whether to regulate them to simple plot devices or form them into whole characters.
It would have been nice to see Landline trim the fat and really flesh out just a couple of these subplots. Instead, it tries to navigate a dozen and spreads itself too thinly. Although I’m sure this stuff mattered when it actually happened to the screenwriter, they don’t gel as a story.
Having said all that, Landline at least holds your attention while you’re watching it. I chuckled every few minutes although none of the jokes evoked belly laughs. Every actor does a fine job, especially relative newcomer Quinn who is the only distinctly memorable part of the film. Landline isn’t a film you should avoid at all costs but I just didn’t quite dig it enough to recommend.
Grade = C+