Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 25, 2017 9:56 am 
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ABBY QUINN, EDIE FALCO, AND JENNY SLATE IN LANDLINE

Robespierre's period family-breakup growing up drama

Gillian Robespierre's fresh and enjoyable debut film, the 2013 Obvious Child (ND/NF) , was about an abortion and was blunt, vulgar and witty. This second one isn't so focused or successful. Lots happens, with tears and shouting, but somehow in the end nothing much. It's a dramedy about a mix of family topics, maybe autobiographical. This is like early Noah Baumbach in its New York Jewish mood, but with less clear focus and structure. Somehow the characters and intrigues seem to cancel each other out and at times the tangled proceedings are a strain to watch. The setting in 1995 (and hence the title - no cell phones, no email even) hints at a reference to the earlier lives of the director and/or her writer, Elisabeth Holm (different from last time) - though this doesn't seem crucial to the action, which is another thing that comes off as somewhat lame.

There are three females, and four males, or three-and-a-half males, since one young one is given very short shrift. And there's another female who's a factor, but not a voice. Dana (Jenny Slate, Obvious Child's obvious star) is a twentysomething journalist whose fiancé Ben (Jay Duplass), as marriage approaches, she is finding increasingly lackluster, leading her to a pre-marital fling with a rather rakish college boyfriend, Nate (Finn Wintrick). Meanwhile Dana's teen sister Ali (Abby Quinn) is experimenting lamely with hard drugs and sex (the latter with Jed, Marquis Rodriguez) while discovering that their father (John Turturro), an ad copywriter and frustrated playwright, is messing around with one of his theater-workshop readers (Amy Carlson), and Ali enlists Dana in stalking out his infidelity.

Dana's up for this, being quite willing to take a break from living with Ben and move back in with Ali and the parents, thus freeing her up for her fling with Nate. Ali's dabblings with sex and drugs both pretty much fizzle, though the drugs one gets both sisters arrested, a non-event.

The two sisters, who are too much alike (and Ali seems too old), are never out of our sight, and their stern mom Pat (Edie Falco, sadly rather wasted) is a bore assigned the most clichéd lines. Ali's presence dims the effect of Jenny Slate, who ruled in Obvious Child. It's impossible to like John Turturro, who's meant to be lame perhaps but succeeds a tad too well. One can enjoy both Finn Wintrick and Jay Duplass. Wintrick seems just what Nate's supposed to be, sexy but bad husband material. As Ben, Duplass may be the most interesting character in the movie. He starts out seeming boring and flat. But he can be authentic and funny. You begin to listen eagerly for what he will say next. Duplass' extensive indie and mumblecore experience shows in his ease here; his recent performance as the venial lawyer in Beatriz at Dinner shows his versatility. Rodriguez, as the high school would be boyfriend, gets the rawest deal in the cast. We don't learn why Ali's so convinced they have no future and can't help wondering, with dismay, if it's a color issue. The treatment of Jed shows the movie hasn't thought things through outside a narrow range.

The ending, like Obvious Child's, show Roespierre likes soft landings - and that's okay.And viewers can enjoy the New York atmosphere, what Owen Gleiberman in his Sundance Variety review calls the movie's "remember-this? vibe — the references to slam poetry and Lorena Bobbitt and eyebrow rings and Must-See TV, to renting 'Curly Sue' at Blockbuster (and actually thinking it’s funny), to Hillary Clinton as a fashion role model, to second-hand CD stores with world-music listening stations," and mix tapes and hair and dress styles, and more. Viewers may simply enjoy the new notion that 1995 is now a quaint time, far away and long ago, like, when? 1965 or 1985? For those growing up in 1995 and now around forty, the time has a distinctive and nostalgic shape that now is ripe to be acknowledged. This, however, makes Landline in itself not much more than a post-period period curiosity. But Robespierre and her talented muse Slate are keen observers with things to say and we can hope they have better luck next time with a less diffuse set of targets.

Landline was the opening night film at San Francisco earlier, and people find its silliness and messiness engaging. Perhaps they even like that it fails to hit the marks of a good romantic comedy with a family-marriage focus. As David Erlich, who gives it an A-, said on Indiewire, Landline "is a textured, silly, sweet, and deeply felt comedy that traces the distance between the most satisfied parts of ourselves and the most desperate, between the people we are and the people we think we should be, and it finds that — for better or worse — we’re all stuck somewhere in between." Yes, most of these people are doing their worst, one would like to think. One can readily imagine that much of their lives they will spend being better, so there is humanity and wisdom in recognizing this. But this is too messy a film with too much that is ordinary and unoriginal.

Landline, 93 mins., also showed at Berkshire, Seattle, Las Vegas, Provincetown, BAMcinemaFest and Nantucket. It opened in theaters in the US starting 21 July 2017. Metacritic rating 65%.

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