Gillian Robespierre’s Landline
Sundance 2017. The OBVIOUS CHILD team returns.
"Almost everything that a second feature should be," writes IndieWire's David Ehrlich, Gillian Robespierre’s Landline "is bigger, richer, shaggier, and more satisfying than Robespierre’s Obvious Child, though obviously a product of the same irreverent imagination. It’s that most elusive of indie dramedies: An honestly told story about the messiness of human relationships. Set in the fall of 1995, a magical time when people kept all of their secrets on floppy discs and Donald Trump was still just a punchline, Landline unfolds like a less caustic version of The Squid and the Whale, albeit one fueled by a raw female energy and graced with the vocabulary of a sexually frustrated sailor."
As Lawrence N Garcia explains in the Notebook, "the film follows two sisters, Ali (Abby Quinn) and Dana (Jenny Slate), who discover that their father (John Turturro) is cheating on their mother (Edie Falco). The situation is complicated by the fact that Dana herself had just cheated on her fiance (Jay Duplass). So far, so Sundance. What sets the film apart is how adroitly Robespierre manages to undercut expectation, often crafting scenes that head in one direction, only to have them pivot—either in tone or intensity—in surprising and wholly satisfying ways."
"The family dynamics are persuasive enough, particularly Slate and Quinn’s snappish, sisterly rapport," grants Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times. "But the tetchiness soon turns monotonous. Great movie bickering becomes a kind of music, but well before the end of Landline, I just wanted the characters to cease their ranting and storming, or at least lower the volume."
"I think Slate is a tremendous and, more importantly, original performer," offers Jordan Hoffman in the Guardian. "Her smart, goofy persona veers from incredible confidence to total basket case in record speed, and this presents itself in brash, unique ways. Unfortunately, the movie itself is a retread of indie story beats we’ve all seen time and again. Slate’s tornado of a central character doesn’t quite overcome the rote aspects of this production."
"Quinn, who’s only appeared in a few roles before Landline, is a revelation as Ali," finds Matt Singer at ScreenCrush. "Ferocious and funny, she’s one of this year’s big discoveries at Sundance."
Variety's Owen Gleiberman finds it "fun to hook into 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. But the inner justification for the setting is also there, and what’s cool is the way it sneaks up on you."
For the AV Club's A.A. Dowd, "Landline feels truthful but a little sitcom-easy." But Flavorwire's Jason Bailey finds it "wise, and witty, and wonderful." Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson goes for "winsome and clever, a very Sundance-y Sundance film that isn’t cloying or precious."
The Hollywood Reporter's Leslie Felperin argues that "the farcical elements in the plot take far too long to gel, and Robespierre and Co. push too hard at mixing sad, silly and sweet." The Playlist's Kevin Jagernauth senses "nothing in particular driving Landline forward." And for Brian Tallerico at RogerEbert.com, it's "a disappointment overall."
Updates, 1/23: "Refreshingly scraggly in its structure and plotting, with an enormous heart and affecting honesty permeating every scene, it marks an impressive step up for the duo," writes Jordan Raup at the Film Stage.
Marshall Schaffer at Movie Mezzanine: "Robespierre is not afraid to have the tough, awkward conversations—and then dwell in the messy resolution, or lack thereof."
Updates, 1/26: "The movie meanders in a manner I found quite pleasing, willing to follow the characters through interactions at work or at home without imposing big thematic burdens on everything," writes Sean Burns. "It’s got the loose, urbane feel of 80s Woody Allen, a debt cleverly acknowledged when one character asks: 'Want to get high and watch Zelig?'"
Slate's Dana "is annoying, but Landline is convinced she’s adorable," writes MTV's Amy Nicholson. "Instead of rooting for romance, I found myself praying for sterilization. At times, the film comes close to defending infidelity, but, ironically, can’t commit to that or, really, any point of view."
But for Stephen Saito, "Robespierre’s great gift is to envision complicated relationships with the clarity and sharpness with which she lands the many comic punchlines in Landline."
Updates, 1/28: "Despite all the romantic and emotional cheating, this is an incredibly tight family, alternately dependent and independent, and a collection of small intimate moments—rather than the overall story arc—are what makes Landline special," writes Eloise Ross for 4:3.
And Filmmaker has a few questions for editor Casey Brooks.
Update, 4/16: For Brooklyn Magazine, Emma Myers talks with Robespierre "and writer/producer Liz Holm shortly after their Sundance premiere to talk about their creative process and the moment they decided to quit their day jobs."
For the full 2017 Sundance on Fandor experience, go here.