Thursday, August 3, 2017

Family problems, '90s style

How you react to Landline, a comedy set in 1995, depends a lot on how you react to Jenny Slate, a comic actress whose performance encompasses what might be called a level of hysteria you'll either find endearing or annoying. (I leaned toward annoying.) On the verge of marriage, Slate's Dana is one of those characters who hasn't settled into her self. As a result, Dana's not sure whether she's ready to spend a lifetime with her fiancé (Jay Duplass). Dana's father, on the other hand, has been in a long marriage with his sometimes sardonic wife (Edie Falco). An advertising copywriter who aspires to be a playwright, Dad (John Turturro) is having an affair that's discovered when Dana's rebellious younger sister (Abby Quinn) finds a series of love poems Dad has written to his mistress. How rebellious is Quinn's Ali? She smokes cigarettes, has become sexually active and even tries snorting heroin. Meanwhile, Slate's Dana acts out her uncertainty about marriage by having an affair with an old college flame (Finn Wittrock). The supporting performances are sharp and the writing by Lillian Robespierre, who directed, and Elizabeth Holm, can be funny. (Robespierre, by the way, directed Slate in Obvious Child, a 2014 rom-com involving a woman who has an abortion). Landline never creates the feeling that anything momentous hangs in its easy-going balance, but it has been drawn with affection for characters whose struggles, for the most part, feel real -- if not profound. Remember it's the '90s, a time when people still had dot-matrix printers attached to their clunky looking computers. It doesn't have much to do with what the movie's about, but looking at these techno dinosaurs made we wonder whether anyone ever swooned with nostalgia over yesterday's technology. I'm guessing, no.

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