“Landline” is a smart comedy with a clever title. Landlines are connected to home, and home and familiar relationships ground us. The setting is the big city circa 1995. Sisters, Dana (Jenny Slate) and Ali ( Abby Quinn), have Jersey mouths on them. We begin on Labor Day with mom and dad ( John Turturro and Edie Falco) and girls singing in the car. Sister spats ensue. Dana is living with her fiancée Jed, and they have just had “tree sex”. Younger sis spots telling stains and shows her distain and knowledge for all to hear. Thus we begin.
Ever since, “What About Mary” modern comedy strives to “gross out” viewers for humor’s sake. Here, screenwriters Elisabeth Holm and GillinRobespierre have Jenny Slate with poison ivy ( the aftermath of sex against a tree) in the shower with Jed ( Jay Duplass ), who decides it is beneficial to pee on her pustules. She likes it; they laugh, and the play goes on. But not before Dana slips up with an old flame ( Finn Wittrock), and is told by her younger sis that their Dad (John Turturro ) is also having an affair. Now, the sisters must bond to protect their mom ( Edie Falco). All the time Dana questions: Is every member of the Jacobs family deigned to be a cheater ?
“Landline” is fresh and smaltzy at the same time. All the characters are extremely likeable: stalwart and fragile, wise and silly. Paradoxes in theme abound, too. In one scene,Jenny muses on adult choices. She tells Jed that one of her girl friends wanted to go on a ski-mask date:”I want to know your personality before I know your face.” kind-of-thing. Jed intuits Dana’s qualms, but nervously hangs in there. Journalist Dana plays hooky from her lay-outs and ends up in the music store where she ran into old-lover Nate. He is a charmer, and well, music is a big part of the Jacobs family life. “You dance to world music” brings on more than Jenny’s belches and snorts. Meanwhile, Jed reads the Hammacher-Schlemmer catalogue.
“Landline” certainly captures the decade before cell phones. The acting is memorable on all fronts. No weak links here. When Dana moves back home to both examine her choices and to look after mom, Falco sadly muses:” I am supposed to be planning her wedding, not feeding her Lucky Charms.” John Turturro on a rowing machine is funny,too. His “orgasmic poetry” less so. Abby Quinn is the daughter who calls her mom a drug sniffing dog and leaves lies like ” left early for student government meeting” on her pillow. Yet, as Ali, she never seems to have to ask “What just happened?”. She,the youngest, asks her unfaithful Dad,” Did you ever think that Carla ( the mistress) is filling a void you created?”
In a film of 97 minutes, fidelity is defined as ” loving a life where we are always choosing one another.” Heartfelt performances from people flailing with their choices. Healthy self -interest and few tailspins.