By Liam Lacey
Sharply-written and acted, Landline is part of the current wave of messy R-rated feminist comedy, mostly on cable television, with Girls, Broad City, Fleabag and Jill Soloway’s Amazon series, Transparent.
In fact, Landline, set among an upper-middle-class Jewish-Italian New York family in Manhattan in 1995 (the title is a throwback to old communication technology), would make a terrific cable TV dramedy. There’s a cast of self-absorbed, articulate characters who have good hearts but make bad choices, a mix of cringe-worthy moments, broad laughs and heart-to-heart confessions.
The creators — writer-director Gillian Robespierre and writer Elisabeth Holm, previously made the pro-choice rom-com, Obvious Child (2014), with this movie’s star Jenny Slate, who has the jumpy, energy of a young Diane Keaton (they both snort they laugh).
Depending on your taste, she’s either endearing or grating. In either case, she compels your attention.
Slate plays Dana, a graphic designer who lives with her fiance, Ben (Jay Duplass) near her parents. Her father is copywriter and inept aspiring playwright named Alan (John Turturro) and her mother, Pat (Edie Falco) is a government worker who admires HIllary Clinton’s fashion sense. Dana’s sister, high-school senior, Ali (Abby Quinn), is still at home, secretly hits the clubs at night, and acts tougher than she is.
The plot turns on infidelity: Ali discovers incriminating erotic poems to a woman identified as “C” on her father’s Mac II computer. But the subject is really sisterhood. Dana and her younger sibling Ali conspire to snoop on their father and discover his mistress. (Some scenes are reminiscent of George Roy Hill’s 1964 comedy, The World of Henry Orient.) At the same time, they share their insecurities. Dana confesses her own infidelity. On the eve of her marriage she'd begun a dirty little fling with a hunky former college beau (Finn Wittrock) who’s the polar opposite of her sensitive, awkward fiancé.
Secrets spill and conflicts come to a head. No doubt, Landline hits familiar beats, and ties up its loose ends too neatly. But I was sorry to see the credits roll. Mostly, I regretted that I couldn’t click on the next episode.
Landline. Directed by Gillian Robespierre. Written by Gillian Robespierre and Elizabeth Holm. Starring: Jenny Slate, Abby Quinn, John Turturro and Edie Falco. : Landline can be seen at the Varsity Cinema.
Liam Lacey is a former film critic for The Globe and Mail, as well as contributor to various other media outlets over the past 37 years.. He recently returned to Canada from Spain because he forgot about the weather