Published Aug 08, 2017"Not everything's so black and white," utters the wise-beyond-her-years little sister of Jenny Slate's Dana late in Landline — it's the sentiment at the core of Gillian Robespierre's new film.
The age-old adage is explored with compassion, wit and nuance by director Robespierre in her full-length feature followup to 2014's hilarious and heartrending Obvious Child. Landline recaptures a similar tone to her debut, punctuating heavy emotional substance with moments of laugh-out-loud humour as viewers follow the story of a family in crisis.
Slate's as charming as ever as the stuck-in-a-rut fiancé of Ben (Jay Duplass), who acts out as her not-even-set-yet wedding date approaches and winds up back at her parents' place while she tries to get a handle on her "flailing" life. Relative newcomer Abby Quinn is a spitfire on the screen as the eye-rolling, late-night raving rebellious younger sister Ali, who uncovers their father's infidelity — and on a floppy disk, no less (the film is, after all, set in '90s Manhattan).
John Turturro and Edie Falco, meanwhile, deliver reliably great performances as the middle-aged husband and wife whose marriage has taken a backseat to parenthood — each exasperated with everyday challenges like being viewed as the "good cop" and "bad cop" in their kids' eyes, losing passion for each other and seeking validation elsewhere.
The film continually challenges expectations and assumptions, as the characters subtly subvert and reverse archetypes and toy with the notion of easy-to-navigate moral compasses. In a refreshingly realistic depiction of both familial and romantic love, each character lands in morally grey territory at some point. Through her flawed yet likable characters, Robespierre dismantles dichotomies and proves that you can be a cheater, and still be a caring sister; you can do drugs and sneak off with your not-boyfriend and still be a good daughter; you can love your spouse and children and still let your marriage fall apart.
Even during its most dramatic and tender moments, Landline is lightened with reminders with of life's laughable banalities, creating a film that's as empathetic and relatable as it is entertaining.