Starring Jenny Slate. Rated 14A
Many of the same folks who made the delightful Obvious Child reteam for a more ambitious and exponentially less rewarding trip down memory lane.
Presumably named after the kind of telecommunication still predominating in 1995, Landline climbs into the throwback machine for no discernible reason—other than the nostalgia felt by writer-director Gillian Robespierre and collaborators, who came of age in the Seinfeld era, just before the advent of all-pervasive social technology.
Jenny Slate, who starred as a comedian not quite ready to get pregnant in Child, here plays Dana, the grown daughter of New York parents (Edie Falco and John Turturro) facing a crisis in their marriage. Dana’s having her own relationship crisis; she’s bored with her bland, nice-guy fiancé (Jay Duplass), and so climbs back into the family nest on the pretext of helping her bratty kid sister, Ali (cast standout Abby Quinn), deal with the possibility that their sweet-tempered dad might be cheating on foul-mouthed Mom. (It is Edie Falco, after all.) But really she wants to hook up with a college fling (Finn Wittrock) who stumbles back into her life.
He’s the hot bad boy in this scenario, but she’s disappointed when (spoiler alert) he doesn’t want to get serious. All problems are on this level of, um, complexity in Landline, which serves up a laundry list of humdrum conflicts, lightened up by 10,000 Maniacs and the slapstick comedy of two goofy sisters with grating voices picking on each other in public. Slate’s vocal fry is often more fry than voice, and for the “mature” one, she spends a lot of time crying and whining. There are zero concerns about money in this largely white Manhattan. (Ali’s guy pal is multiracial, seemingly to inoculate the movie from charges of narrow-casting.) No character has interests or goals in life outside of relationship stuff, except for Turturro’s, who dreams of being a playwright.
That aspiration is held out as laughable in a mean-spirited movie that also makes space to mock the overweight, the aged, the mentally ill, the homeless, and anyone who dresses like Hillary Clinton. Seriously, did everyone have to travel back in time just to make pantsuit jokes?