Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jenny Slate, John Turturro, Edie Falco, Abby Quinn, Jay Duplass, Finn Wittrock
Written by: Gillian Robespierre, Elisabeth Holm, based on a story by Gillian Robespierre, Elisabeth Holm, Tom Bean
Directed by: Gillian Robespierre
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language and drug use
Running Time: 93
Date: 07/21/2017

Landline (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Hang Ups

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jenny Slate's Obvious Child was an acclaimed and much-loved film, but I found it to be too shackled to its one-line, sitcom pitch. But here is her follow-up, Landline, once again directed by Gillian Robespierre, and I like it much better. It's looser and more free-flowing. It still doesn't get anywhere near profound or life-changing — it still can't quite transcend its sitcom structure — but it's at least honest and funny.

Landline, which I saw as the opening night feature at the San Francisco Film Festival, is set in 1995, hence the title, referring to the phones we used back then. Slate plays Dana, who is in her 20s and works at a magazine (one printed on paper). She gets engaged to Ben (Jay Duplass), but has something of a freakout. She succumbs to an affair with an old college friend Nate (Finn Wittrock), begins to bond with her teen sister, Ali (Abby Quinn), and Ali discovers that their father (John Turturro) may be having an affair. She decides to move back in with her parents for an undetermined time, to perhaps find some kind of order.

Quinn, especially, makes a strong mark here, especially in her sister-scenes with Slate. And Edie Falco is typically excellent as Dana and Ali's mother, whose personal dramas are quieter and harder to explain. Aside from plenty of 90s-era references, the movie has a few fairly funny set pieces (notably an attempted drug buy while in Halloween costumes), but its real strength lies in its quirky-funny dialogue — written by Robespierre and Elisabeth Holm — and its unforced performances.

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