Landline takes us back to the days – 1995, to be exact – before the proliferation of smart phones and social media, when, if folks wanted to have affairs with old college flames, they had to bump into each other, in an actual physical space.
No pings or pokes or swipes.
You were on your own.
New York journalist Dana (Jenny Slate) is in the home stretch of a long engagement to an amiable schlub (Jay Duplass) when she sees a handsome ex (Finn Wittrock), whose flattery and naughty innuendo catch her just as she presents with full-blown commitment panic.
She weakens, a propensity she may have inherited from her father (John Turturro). Dana suspects he's cheating on her mother (Edie Falco). The possible affair has also caught the attention of Dana's high school senior sister, Ali (Abby Quinn), and contributes to her rebellious behavior. Ali's a brainy girl who is defiantly and perhaps dangerously determined to go her own way (the movie is set in the days before the iPhone, but not before opioids).
Landline is the second pairing of Slate and director Gillian Robespierre. They previously collaborated on Obvious Child, a movie that also mixed comedy and drama in an offbeat way. Here, Robespierre layers the movie's romantic relationships for contrasts: The parent's deteriorating marriage, Dana's troubled engagement, Ali's high school fling.
What stands out, though, is the dynamic between Dana and Ali. It's been some time since I've seen sisters drawn this well and this convincingly. Young actress Quinn makes a strong impression as a brainy young woman yet to learn the important difference between high SAT scores and true wisdom.
Slate has a few touching scenes in which – we sense – she finds a tactful way to help her sister avoid some of the mistakes she made as a teen. We also sense Dana understands she needs to fill in for her mother, currently distracted by the growing estrangement from her husband. Landline's insight into the interior lives of women is another by-product of our unusual summer, one with so much behind-the-camera female talent.
I don't know that the men in Landline benefit quite as much. Duplass' character tolerates his bride-to-be's infidelity with a patience that borders on masochism, but his appearance does fulfill the obligation for somebody named Duplass to appear in every single independent comedy released in America.