The family comedy "Landline" reveals the filmmakers' roots in and knowledge of the New York City of the 1990s, from raves to checking phone messages on a pay phone. The political and cultural references are spot on, the fashions are on point and the soundtrack is a trip down memory lane.
The film reunites three of the key creative members of 2014's heartfelt dramedy "Obvious Child." Director Gillian Robespierre once again joins forces with writer Elisabeth Holm and star Jenny Slate for this story about multigenerational complications of life and love.
Sisters Ali (Abby Quinn) and Dana (Slate) are going through their respective growing pains of young adulthood. Ali is a rebellious teenager, sneaking off to clubs and experimenting with drugs. While Dana might seem to have it all together — she's engaged to Ben (Jay Duplass) and working at a magazine — soon she's crumbling over existential questions about her life and future. Things aren't helped when Ali discovers some erotic poetry on a floppy disk belonging to their father, Alan (John Turturro), and the sisters are soon trying to suss out if he's having an affair.
Turturro and Edie Falco, who plays the girls' mom, are always warm, sturdy presences on screen, and this is no exception. Quinn brings a quintessential brittle teenage charm to her role.
But as much as the movie strives to be an ensemble, Slate's effervescent, almost manic energy draws attention in such a way that you wonder if this should have been her film. Slate is at her giggly, squeaky, goofy best, drawing all the focus away from the more subdued performances. Her character goes through the most extreme emotional journey, and it seems that "Landline" would have been more cohesive and compelling with Dana as its centerpiece.
Despite the warm feelings of '90s nostalgia inspired by the familiar if forgotten songs, clothes and ways of life, there's a creeping sense that there's no real reason for the movie to be set in this period. It's a family drama that could be set at any time.
It's for this reason that, at times, it's just coasting on the novelty of '90s nostalgia without justifying that choice and allowing those references to stand in for actual propulsive storytelling and jokes. The story eventually arrives at its destination, but the middle is muddled and lacks energy.
Robespierre and Slate have a fruitful collaborative relationship; Robespierre clearly gets Slate's humor and lets her play within the confines of the character and story. There's no doubt that Robespierre and Slate will do more great things together in the future, even if "Landline" isn't that home run.