People cheat, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily bad people. That seems to be the over-arching message to Landline, the follow-up indie dramedy (equal parts drama and comedy in this one, for sure) to Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child (which was a completely endearing film). For the majority of the film we see the foibles of modern (well, circa 1995, but still relevant) relationships through the eyes of Ali, the youngest, most observant and wise-beyond-her-years sister in this tumultuous family.
A lot of the film hinges on Abby Quinn’s (Ali) ability to portray the angsty, counter-culture, NY teenager without alienating the audience – which she does quite well. She blends acerbic, thoughtful and relatable in a way that truly helps the audience navigate her family’s parallel stories. Plus her “don’t-fuck-with-me” attitude actually makes her more winsome than the more cloying behavior of her mother, father or sister. The reasons for her behavior become clear when we see just how dysfunctional the seemingly “normal” members of her family truly are.
Her mother (Edie Falco) martyr’s herself at every turn: “Why is my husband so ineffectual? Why is my daughter acting out? Why is this happening to me?” Despite the fact that she keeps everyone at arm’s length/looks down on them, she’s clueless as to why everyone shuts her out. Her father (John Turturro) wants the love he doesn’t get from his wife so badly he coddles his daughters and cheats on his wife. Her sister (Jenny Slate – always charming, even as an unfaithful fiancé she’s still so likable!) is so repressed that she finally implodes by cheating on her fiancé.
Ali, by comparison, is the only member of her family who has her proverbial shit together.
Naturally Ali becomes the caretaker for a family unable to cope with their own dysfunction. She tries to assuage her sister’s fears and create confrontation for her emotionally closed off parents all while still figuring out who she really is. Ultimately Ali is the driving force behind this story, but the film seemed hesitant to truly put her front-and-center. This is understandable when you have a cast this good, but at times it did feel less like Ali’s story and more like an ensemble piece. Overall though, seeing her absolute reticence to put up with her family’s un-ending BS made her a standout character for sure and an actress to definitely watch going forward.
The parallel storylines of her parents’ and sister’s relationships showed the different aspects of cheater-y (not a real word, I know). Why people cheat seemed to be the focus rather than the typical “cheaters are jerks – here’s what happens after” stories common to the genre. The entire film almost serves as a mediation on the most un-romantic, depressing aspects of infidelity with Ali as the connective tissue.
It really investigates the grey area of unfaithfulness in relationships – rarely is it about being attracted to another person. Landline asks the questions that everyone in a long term relationship needs to ask themselves: “Am I truly happy?” “Am I really ready for marriage?” “I’m not the same person I was when we first met -will this still work?”
For Ali, seeing these un-asked questions be answered in the most ill-advised ways by her family ends up being a true education in relationships.
For the audience, it would be easy to see a lot of heated conversations happening on the way out of theater.
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