A nostalgia-driven comedy about family, falling down, and getting back up again.
On Amazon Prime | 2017 | R | 1h 37m
Genre: Comedy, Family Drama
Why I watched: I LOVE Jenny Slate. I also love the nineties, and I love my sister. So a sister-comedy, starring Slate, set in 1995? Landline was clearly made for me! I watched this film in theaters last year, and it was one of those movies that at the time I thought everyone had heard about/was watching/was obsessed with. But the more people I mention Landline to, the more I feel like it slipped under people's radars. (Possibly because at the time of the film's release, Amazon Studios was busy promoting The Big Sick, which you should also see.) And that's why I'm recommending it to you this week!
You might also like: Landline is Jenny Slate's and writer-director Gillian Robespierre's follow up to Obvious Child (on Netflix), which struck that similar perfect-for-me chord when it came out in 2014. Slate and Robespierre have the comedic genius to anchor even the unfunniest topics to laughter. In the case of Obvious Child, that topic is the termination of an unplanned pregnancy. It's a deeply empathetic and smart rom-com full of frank humor. And in many, many ways, it's a better movie—but I aim to please with this newsletter, and think that Landline has the potential for farther reach audience-wise. (Although Michael, my partner and litmus test for whether or not a movie has broad appeal, also enjoyed Obvious Child when I dragged asked him to see it with me in theaters!)
Dana Jacobs (Slate) and her much younger sister Ali (Abby Quinn) are complete opposites. They were both raised by the same parents—Pat (Edie Falco) and Alan (John Turturro)—in the same Jewish, upper-middle-class Manhattan household. While Dana has a grown-up office job, Ali is about to graduate from high school. And while Dana listens to world music at an indie record store, Ali goes hard at raves. (Remember, this is the nineties!) But the two are unexpectedly brought together when Ali discovers that their father is having an affair—and when Dana subsequently admits to her younger sister that she's been cheating on her fiancé Ben (Jay Duplass).
"What do you want me to say?" Dana says to her father when he asks what's wrong. "I'm flailing." Slate's performance is spot on as she wafts through early adulthood with uncertainty, barreling toward a quarter-life crisis. Her mom is attempting to make an appointment for her at Kleinfeld's bridal boutique, while Dana isn't even certain she wants to still marry Ben. The only member of the Jacobs family who appears sure in her romantic choice is Ali, who Dana finds stowed away at their parents' country house. But rather than go back to the city with her boyfriend, Ali decides to stay, turning to him and saying, "I think my sister might be having a nervous breakdown. And I need to make sure she doesn't tell my mom on me." It's one of the screenplay's many perfect moments that characterizes the sister's relationship: Ali cares about her older sister, but she also doesn't want Dana to get her in trouble.
Pay phones, VHS tapes, Blockbusters, and skipping CDs make up the film's backdrop, feeding my nostalgia at its epicenter. There's something really satisfying about seeing the objects of your childhood on the silver screen. But the recent past is more central to the film than just that. We wish we could see this family ten years earlier, before Pat and Alan's relationship comes undone. Or that we could meet Dana in college, when she and Ben first met. We might even want to rewind to the beginning of the film, to stop Dana from hooking up with Nate (who really turns out to be such a lame-o) and to stop Abby from buying drugs (which is a trainwreck waiting to happen). But at the same time, this gentle desire for the past seems layered. What we really want is a perfect past, which never existed in the first place.
Obvious Child began an energetically creative relationship between Robespierre and Slate, which comes through in Landline. Alongside Robespierre's co-writer Elisabeth Holm, the three women collaborated to create Dana. When the screenplay veers toward too dramatic, Slate's gurgling laughter cuts the tension with supreme awkwardness. Bringing Woody Allen–ish vibes, their movies invite viewers to feel uncomfortable and endeared by romance and relationships that build (or unbuild) themselves before us. Honestly, that feels like the most genuine kind of comedy. Because life and love are hard, but we should try not to take them too seriously. And that's something we can all forget every once in awhile.