People think happily ever after is so easy; a concept derived centuries ago that two people can get together, marry one another and make it work for the rest of their lives. This fairy tale gets a lot of mileage in particular from Hollywood, giving us the three-act plot with the large romantic crescendo at the very end. It's not that simple.
The truth is that marriage and easy don't live in the same zip code and writer/director Gillian Robespierre is here to tell you about it with her new film, "Landline." Here is a bare-bones film independent of any superhero, controversy or overbearing running time.
"Landline" is a smart, witty, funny and revealing 95-minute movie that doesn't waste a second of your time and even leaves you with a bit of hope at the end.
Dana (Jenny Slate) and Ali (Abby Quinn) have a problem: their father Alan (John Turturro) may be cheating on their mom Pat (Edie Falco) and they have no idea how to tell her or deal with it themselves. Ali, the younger sister, deals with the news by playing detective — reading all the notes Alan has mysteriously hidden in a floppy disk on the computer — while Dana struggles with her own engagement to Ben(Jay Duplass).
And yes, I did say FLOPPY DISK! Landline is comfortably set in 1995, where pay phones, jean coats and human interaction were still relevant. I love the way that Robespierre transported this fidelity drama twenty years ago, so cell phones and the internet couldn't intercede with the screenplay.
Dana is having her own issues with Ben, trying to decide if the long road of marriage is worth it for a guy whose excitement level isn't matching hers at the moment. Alan is a middle-aged theater writer who doesn't feel appreciated by Pat, but is he simply acting out or in love with someone else?
Robespierre and fellow writer Elisabeth Holm wisely create two separate fidelity/marriage dynamics in different age groups with Dana/Ben and Alan/Pat, creating a dichotomy for the rest of the film to play with.
The cast is superb, with the standouts being Turturro and Slate. I'd watch Turturro read the Wall Street Journal for $10 because the seasoned vet can make any copy dance off the page. When you look at his face, the character never hides, instead appearing for instant conviction. You don't despise Alan due to the way Turturro plays him in this film; you want him to get things right.
Slate is a popular actress at the moment, but I didn't care for her light work in this year's "Gifted" because she wasn't given much to work with. This movie gives her plenty. "Landline" gives her a tricky woman in Dana, and the result is a performance to be heralded by younger actresses. Without overplaying the drama of Dana's plight, Slate gives an honest performance that aims to be provocative.
Quinn, Falco and Duplass are very good with more familiar characters, applying a fresh coat of ambiguity to their stories. Falco has played the go-with-the-flow wife before in Sopranos but knows how to mix sweet and bitter, and the impressive Quinn doesn't just play the rebel without a cause. Duplass is better known for the work he does with his brother Mark, but he adds a certain layer of spice to Ben's anger. Finn Whittrock is a good foil in the story as Nate, a guy who is too good looking to be authentic.
"Landline" easily connects with the viewer, crafting a story and world that is like the comfortable coat you find in the back of the closet that may have lost its flavor years back-but still fits somehow. Watching it made me think about my marriage and how to it has fought the odds and managed to win, but not without hardship. I like a movie that doesn't give us all the answers, but makes us think about the odds.
"Landline" is a very good film about the idea of marriage and love withstanding the tests of time and temptation. Come for the time-hop, stay for the superb acting.
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