I am generally not a huge fan of family comedic dramas, which is why Amazon Studios‘ newest release Landline really surprised me. I actually enjoyed the film set in mid-1990’s Manhattan and starring a mixture of seasoned, powerful dramatic actors and less experienced ones. Sisters Dana (Obvious Child‘s Jenny Slate) and Ali (Abby Quinn) discover a secret about their parents at a time when both are dealing with their own very different troubles. Edie Falco (“Sopranos,” “Nurse Jackie”) and John Turturro (“The Night Of,” Miller’s Crossing) portray their parents, struggling to balance their own ambitions with the needs of family.
Edie Falco and John Turturro give such rich, nuanced performances, they seem to elevate the performances of the other cast members. In fact, Jenny Slate delivers her best performance to date, only occasionally exposing her inexperience with dramatic roles.
The story examines this family as they navigate their relationships through secrecy, rebellion, poor choices, and drama. There is much to like here. Why not start with the era?
I’ve never been particularly nostalgic about the ’90’s, but this film brings up some of the more enjoyable aspects of the decade. Cassette tapes, floppy discs, listening stations, and corduroy pants add whimsy to the film. Setting the film in a time before cell phones is a wise choice. Without today’s ability to get in touch at a moment’s notice, it allows the story to evolve more naturally and believably. It also just makes it more fun. Everything from clothing and hair to musical choices add something special to the film. Viewers who weren’t around in the days when phones were tethered to the wall may likely find this an interesting foray into the past.
Another great aspect of Gillian Robespierre and Elisabeth Holm‘s screenplay is how accurately it depicts a sisterly relationship. So rarely does cinema seem to capture sibling ties in any real way. I find it difficult to believe the vast number of portrayals of siblings who don’t get along at all, or worse, the ones that are thicker than thieves and constantly defend and protect each other. In my experience, siblings who share little in common tend to lean more towards a sense of indifference towards each other rather than the hate or jealousy depicted in many cinematic portrayals. The relationship between Dana and Ali feels more truthful than any sisterly relationship I’ve seen on screen in recent years. It just feels like real life.
Also, the comedy is pretty good, encompassing some physical humor with witty comments and silliness. While not gut-busting hilarious, Landline generates chuckles and laughs fairly often, yet it’s the dramatic notes about family that resonate the loudest.