The Citizen Jane Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri, which celebrates women filmmakers, opened its tenth year on Oct. 27, 2017 with the feature comedy-drama “Landline.” Directed by Gillian Robespierre and co-written by Robespierre and Elisabeth Holm, the movie is a hilarious and touching slice of life depicting a New York City family in the mid-1990s.
The film stars some heavy hitters, including Edie Falco and John Turturro as the parents and Jenny Slate as one of their daughters. Jay Duplass of “Transparent” plays Slate’s character’s fiance.
Central to the movie’s narrative is the relationship of sisters Dana (Slate) and Ali, played by newcomer Abby Quinn. The sisters discover evidence that their father (Turturro) has had an affair, while they’re going through their own life upheavals. Dana, for example, is questioning her decision to marry her fiance, while teenage Ali is experimenting with sex and drugs.
Robespierre and Holm have skillfully created three-dimensional characters and put them in comic situations that are always believable and never over the top. The film is also poignant, as we fall in love with these deeply flawed characters and identify with their struggles and desire to be better people.
One of the reasons to love “Landline” is that it shows women in situations we don’t often see, certainly not in mainstream feature films. A particularly hilarious scene involves a hungover Dana being pulled off the bed by her sister and hosed off in the shower. All the while, Dana is wearing a thong bodysuit and underwear – one of many references in the film to life in the 90s. Other references include payphones, floppy disks, and audiocassettes.
The title “Landline” is itself a reference to the 90s, as the only immediate non-face-to-face connection we had with one another prior to email and cell phones.
Every actor in the cast gives a pitch-perfect performance. Slate, in particular, is a force to be reckoned with. Her comic chops are superlative, so it’s no wonder the filmmakers call her their “muse.” Abby Quinn is extraordinary despite the short list of credits on her IMDB page. It was also nice to see Duplass play a character very different from the one he plays on “Transparent.”
In a Skype Q&A after the film, Robespierre and Holm said they chose to set the film in the 90s because they both came of age in New York City during that decade, watching their respective parents go through divorces.
With an audience that included many film students, Robespierre and Holm were asked how they got their start. Robespierre said that she began as a film editor, but when part of that education required she write and direct, she discovered that she wanted to be involved earlier in the filmmaking process. An editor is one of the last people to work on a film.
Still, it took her a long time to believe she could become a director since there were so few female role models in the field. It took a lot of courage for her to break into an industry that she says didn’t necessarily want her in it.
“Landline,” which is rated R, was part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is currently available on demand. I highly recommend it.