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

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

LANDLINE
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

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.