Following up their daring and all-around extraordinary romantic comedy "Obvious Child," writer-director Gillian Robespierre and actor Jenny Slate reteam for the authentic, heartfelt, and often very funny "Landline," a melancholy comedy about a Manhattan family in crisis.
Dana (Slate) is experiencing some insecurity in her relationship with her sweet, but not very exciting fiancé, Ben (Jay Duplass). She's happy, but left wondering whether that's all there is. She shares a generally combative relationship with her headstrong teenage sister, Ali (Abby Quinn, in a superb debut). Although Ali, for her part, is too busy sneaking out to experiment with sex and drugs, and sorting through her own questions about her "not really" boyfriend Jed (Marquis Rodriquez) to be overly concerned with the status of their sisterly bond. Their parents (the always great John Turturro and Edie Falco) have settled into their own routine, one which neither of them seems too content with.
Then Ali stumbles across a floppy disk that appears to contain evidence of her father's infidelity, a revelation which simultaneously brings the two girls together, while sending them both into a collective tailspin. Dana embarks on her own affair with an old college flame (Finn Wittrock) and moves back into the family apartment to give herself some time to sort through these new developments.
"Landline" is set in 1995, and while it never feels like it needs the period setting, it's at least handled organically, while adding a nice sense of specificity to the story. Robespierre and Slate continue to make a great team, and the director gives her leading lady room to stretch as a dramatic actor. Her chemistry with Quinn is wonderful, and both are charming enough that we're able to forgive their characters' occasionally appalling behavior.
As in "Obvious Child," Robespierre's script (with co-writer Elisabeth Holm) is almost ruthless in recognizing its characters' faults. But crucially, this never lessens the filmmaker's obvious affection for them. They're people left disappointed by where they've ended up, but equally unsure about whether they'd find any more pleasure in being somewhere else. "I'm flailing," Dana says. "I'm just trying to figure out if the life I've picked for myself is even the one that I want. And I don't even know if I'm allowed to ask that question."
"Landline" allows each of its characters to ask that question. It keeps things messy, telling a story that takes place in that all too familiar space between the person we are and the one we'd like to be, and recognizing that happiness generally means making peace with living our lives somewhere in between.
Check back on Friday for additional film coverage, including a review of the documentary "Rumble: Indians Who Rocked the World."