Landline movie review: love in the time before smartphones

Landline green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

A charming delight in a retro timeslip. Gillian Robespierre and Jenny Slate continue their rampage of creating wonderfully, memorably flawed women onscreen.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for movies about women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Manhattan, 1995. It is a strange land of payphones on street corners, dot-matrix printers, and smoking indoors in public places. It was a time when the lack of smartphones, unlimited texting, and social media made it possible to actually take a break from someone without having to ghost them. This is the realm in which 30something Dana (Jenny Slate: The Lego Batman Movie) exists as finds herself needing some space from her fiancé, Ben (Jay Duplass: Paper Towns); we could see that she maybe wasn’t really into the whole marriage idea before she admitted it to herself. Now she is crashing back at home with ad-copywriter dad Alan (John Turturro: Exodus: Gods and Kings), mom Pat (Edie Falco: Megan Leavey) — who appears to be trying to channel Hillary Clinton in her local-government job — and little sis Ali (Abby Quinn: The Sisterhood of Night), who, despite still being in high school, has a way more exciting life than Dana. But even with the family together again, everything seems to be falling apart: Ali has discovered evidence that their father is having an affair, so the sisters decide to investigate. It seems unlikely to end well.

“Yes, hello, retro tech support? Can you tell me what this long curly string thing is, please?”
“Yes, hello, retro tech support? Can you tell me what this long curly string thing is, please?”tweet

Writer (with Elisabeth Holm and Tom Bean) and director Gillian Robespierre is back with the followup to her astonishing debut film, 2014’s Obvious Child, and if this isn’t quite the revelation that one was — it’s too slight for that — Landline is nevertheless a charming delight, bursting with memorable characters confronting tough life issues in ways that are instantly recognizable.tweet That is to say, they are fucking it up in spectacular ways, and muddling along as best they can. Robespierre once again makes magnificent use of Slate, who also starred in Child, harnessing her sparky energy and intelligent confusiontweet to create a portrait of personal disaster that is hugely ingratiating; we instinctively root for Dana to get her act together. All these characters engage our sympathies even when they are opposing, and the entire cast is terrific, and a joy to spend time with. But Dana is the center, and Slate steals the show. When Dana admits, “I don’t know [what I’m doing]. I’m flailing,” Slate once again — as in Obvious Child — inhabits a new kind of role model for women onscreen, one that says it’s okay to be a flawed human being who makes mistakes. I will need to meet many more people like Slate’s Dana, for whom there seems to be little room onscreen, before I tire of them.

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