Jenny Slate and Abby Quinn appear in Landline by Gillian Robespierre, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jojo Whilden.

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Writer/director Gillian Robespierre showed tremendous promise with her controversial debut film Obvious Child.  Robespierre has taken her film making talent and writing sensibilities and applied them to her newest project Landline.  With Landline, Robespierre explores dysfunctional relationships of both familial and romantic varieties.  Instead of focusing mainly on one character and her problems as she does with Obvious Child, Robespierre has expanded her scope a little by revealing the problems and issues of a New York family during the 1990s and the things they must do to cope with their issues.  With three superbly written and developed female characters and with outstanding performances by the cast, Landline proves to be an exceptional sophomore feature for the deft filmmaker.

High school teenager Ali Jacobs (Abby Quinn) has a knack for stressing out her parents Pat (Edie Falco) and Allen (John Turturro).  The precocious troublemaker may be intelligent, and quick-witted, but she is also rebellious and acid-tongued, especially to her family members.  As if Ali isn’t enough stress for the frazzled parents, their eldest daughter Dana (Jenny Slate) has returned home because of a personal crisis.  The young grown-up woman suffers from cold feet as she and her fiancee Ben (Jay Duplass) get more serious about their wedding.  When Ali discovers her father might be having an extramarital affair, she and her older sister put their differences aside to discover the truth.

Robespierre, who co-wrote the screenplay and story with Elizabeth Holm and Tom Bean, has made a delightful and genuine comedy with Landline.  As she did with Obvious Child, the writer/director ably tells a realistic story with outstanding plot and character development.  She does a great job blending both the comedic and more poignant beats naturally and sensibly.  Even though not every single joke works perfectly, most of the humor did have me laughing heartily and quite often.

Robespierre and her casting department have assembled a wonderful cast for the film.  Jenny Slate, who also stars in Obvious Child, makes a welcome return for Robespierre’s second movie.  The sharp and witty actress has great comic timing and an impeccable gift for self-deprecating humor.  This makes her absolutely perfect for the uptight and neurotic Dana.  The awesomely talented Edie Falco offers a tremendous turn as the fiery-tempered, but loving mother Pat.  John Turturro gives a more subdued, but endearing performance as the family’s patriarch going through a mid-life crisis.  The film also features Jay Duplass, Ali Ahn, Marquis Rodriguez, Jordan Carlos, and Finn Wittrock.  All of whom deliver solid work.

The big breakout performance comes from Abby Jacobs who stars as the defiant and intractable Ali Jacobs.  She comes across as one-half, female Holden Caulfield, one-half Katherina Minola (from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew).  Jacobs truly shines in this role and both she and Jenny Slate share the perfect chemistry as sister characters.  Whether they are fighting or bonding, both actresses come across as natural and realistic in all of their scenes.  At this time during the year, both Jacobs and Slate deserve nominations for their performances.

I can also easily see this film as a possible contender for a Golden Globe nomination in the Musical/Comedy category, but that will all depend on any competition that gets released in the coming months.  In the meantime, I highly recommend catching Landline while in theaters.  Though it isn’t a film that begs to be seen on the big screen.  Its great writing and direction deserve much box office love, more than the usual summer fare.  After Obvious Child and this lovable follow-up feature, I would love to see more work from filmmaker Gillian Robespierre.

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