Film has warmth and wit but lacks strong narrative
Writer-director Gillian Robespierre's first feature, “Obvious Child,” was an impressive feat, and one that set a high bar.
A warm, funny and honest comedy that featured abortion as a central plot point — although not, as some would call it in shorthand, “a comedy about abortion” — it was a movie that could have easily failed in the wrong hands.
“Obvious Child” also featured an amazing acting turn by Jenny Slate, who again pairs with Robespierre in her new film, “Landline.”
This level of expectation can be detrimental. If “Obvious Child” was low on the radar, “Landline” held the kind of potential that makes a pretty good movie also feel like a setback.
Set in '90s Manhattan, it follows a family going through a time of change. Dana (Slate) is a 20-something engaged to Ben (Jay Duplass), whose unexpected fling with an ex causes her to reflect on the life she thought was expected of her.
Her younger sister Ali (Abby Quinn) is a sharp-witted teen going through her own growing pains in a time of experimentation.
Their parents (John Turturro and Edie Falco) are doing their best to keep the family together, but when Dana and Ali suspect their father may be having an affair, the cracks begin to show.
If successfully navigating a comedy with an abortion plotline was no small feat, “Landline” leaves Robespierre with a similarly challenging array of interwoven stories.
Focusing a narrative in a movie like this can be tough, and the fast pace and layers don't always do justice to the emotional connection between the audience and the characters.
That '90s Manhattan setting can also sometimes be a distraction, although Robespierre's personal connection with the time and place is evident. Even the name of the movie bears a certain nostalgia.
Still, the uniformly great cast keeps things witty and watchable. Slate again shows a great a mix of comedic and dramatic acting, and Quinn stands up nicely as the kid sister who's both ahead of her years and has some growing up to do.
Turturro and Falco each have their own moments to shine, although the parents' story is more difficult to connect with.
“Landline” still has the warmth and laughs we'd expect after “Obvious Child.” A narrative that focused more on one of these stories could have helped avoid a sophomore slump.