All my friends were going to Metallica on Sunday night. I opted to head to the Angelika Film Center for a movie I didn’t see playing anywhere else. It is by the same team behind the terrific, underrated Obvious Child (the same writer, same director, and star Jenny Slate).
It’s a shame Landline will probably have the same fate. It’ll come and go, and nobody will see it. You have a few more days to head to the Angelika to catch it, and I highly suggest you do that.
The movie takes place in 1995. That means you might get some jokes and tropes that have you roll your eyes. I swear, if I see another scene with parents signing along to a cheesy song on the radio while the kids groan in the backseat (it was to Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love”)…
I don’t need to see anybody else hand another person a mix tape ever again, either (although it certainly helps when the song we get to hear a few minutes of is by PJ Harvey).
What makes this movie stand out is that they’re not just relying on an old computer or landline telephones, or a clip of Hillary Clinton on TV wearing a goofy suit. It’s the fact that we have jokes that work, a family that seems authentic, and an amazing cast.
The story involves a family in New York going through some issues. Pat (Edie Falco) is the mother, an environmental lawyer involved in local politics. She’s trying to deal with teen daughter Ali (Abby Quinn, who is as good as any of the big names in the cast). Ali likes to sneak out at night and go clubbing, and is generally disrespectful to her parents any chance she gets. Pat is a bit bothered that husband Alan (John Turturro) makes her do all the dirty work and doesn’t want to discipline Ali (“It’s not good cop/bad cop. You’re barely even a crossing guard.”) Alan, a successful advertising executive, fancies himself a poet and playwright. The chemistry between these two is terrific and when they have little fights, they feel like a real couple.
Older daughter Dana (Jenny Slate) works at a magazine, and is engaged to Ben (Jay Duplass). She seems to think he’s a bit boring in the sex department, despite the fact that they occasionally get risque by doing things like having sex in the woods.
This is a true ensemble piece, and everyone gets a chance to shine. It’s also nice that smaller roles are written and acted nicely. Marquis Rodriguez is the biracial boyfriend of Ali, and it’s interesting how their relationship develops and how he seems like a normal guy. Often times in movies like this, they make the teenagers so hip it strains credulity (I’m thinking about you, Juno). Instead, we see that Jed likes to draw, he can have interesting conversations with Ali (and spout lines like “Wanna get high and watch Zelig?”).
The sisters suspect their dad might be having an affair, so they start doing some spying. Again, it’s the tropes we’ve seen in other films, but they all seem to work better in this.
One of the sisters also seems interested in an old flame that might be more fun than her current beau. Yet a perfect example of why this is a movie that rises above the other films of this ilk…the boring boyfriend actually is kind of interesting and fun. A poorly written film would’ve just made him some sap that has the audience wondering why the woman would’ve been interested in him in the first place.
It’s also refreshing that the sisters aren’t so fond of each other, but they don’t hate each other, either. Again, it’s like real families, and not fake film versions.
How can you not like a movie that has a soundtrack that has The Breeders one minute, and cheesy dancing to Stacey Q or Donna Summer the next?
This is a movie with characters that can be selfish and awkward, and not just trying to win the audience over with cuteness. You’ll be surprised you’re even rooting for them (as one character states, “We’re a family of cheaters.”)
The narrative could’ve been tightened up, and the drama isn’t as heavy as the writer and director were probably shooting for, but so what?
I hope this film makes Abby Quinn a star, and it certainly should make Slate even more popular (despite the fact that her laugh is actually starting to annoy me at this point).
It gets 3 ½ stars out of 5.