Movie Review: ‘LANDLINE’ hangs up on its potential to matter


Preston Barta // Features Editor

Rated R, 97 minutes.
Director: Gillian Robespierre
Cast: Jenny SlateAbby QuinnJohn TurturroEdie FalcoJay Duplass and Finn Wittrock

Check out the trailer for LANDLINE, Gillian Robespierre’s follow-up to her remarkable abortion comedy OBVIOUS CHILD. It seemingly tells a mid-90s set story of two sisters who learn that their father is cheating on their mother. Through their discovery, they find out more about each other and what makes their bond deeper than blood. Add some familiar faces, good laughs and a nice hook track (Spacehog’s “In the Meantime”) to seal the deal, and you’re well on your way to watching a great indie film.

Sadly, all the charm stays in the trailer.

Instead of Robespierre and co-writer Elisabeth Holm building on the family story, they throw another infidelity plot in the mix — which makes it all the more difficult to root for the characters.

Jenny Slate (also of OBVIOUS CHILD) plays Dana, a layout artist for Paper Magazine and the eldest child in the Jacobs family. Her upper-middle-class parents, mother Pat (Edie Falco) and father Alan (John Turturro), are simply going through the motions of their marriage.

Dana’s younger sister Ali (newcomer Abby Quinn) is a high school senior who’s undergoing typical rebellion (drug use, staying out late and premarital sex), while Dana is worried about her dull relationship with her fiancé Ben (Jay Duplass). To stave off boredom, Dana sparks up some action with former flame Nate (Finn Wittrock).

Jenny Slate and Finn Wittrock star in ‘LANDLINE.’ Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

After a drug-fueled evening, Ali finds erotic poetry from her father to another woman on his desktop computer. Determined to find this mystery woman, Ali informs her sister. In turn, Dana confesses her own unfaithfulness. Yelling and heartbreak ensue.

Hollywood’s tales of marriage all too often come from a bitter place. On one hand it’s understandable that filmmakers analyze infidelity — it’s such an intimate and emotional experience. But films about troubled marriages could follow less damaging routes. (Indie films THE WAY WAY BACK and THE DESCENDANTS use adultery as a way to catapult its story into motion.) When the plot doesn’t do the groundwork necessary to give viewers good reasons for such betrayals, like LANDLINE, audiences are loath to invest in the characters.

LANDLINE has a few moments of dramatic potency, especially when Dana subtlety shares her fear of accepting her marriage, and the ways it will cement her life to a typical path. Unfortunately, it’s a chore to get through. Ultimately, the movie will make you wish this cynical line had gotten disconnected.

Grade: C-

LANDLINE opens in limited release on Friday. Dallas: Angelika Film Center in Dallas and Plano.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.