1995 called.

H ow do you know you’ve picked the right partner? That must be a question every married person in the world (besides me, of course) has asked at one time or another. The problem is timing. It’s like you get to fill exactly one suitcase to live at an unknown destination for an unknown period. What do you pack? Lord knows my wife didn’t get to pack everything she wanted, and she had to take along a few things she didn’t — like my propensity for doing stupid things. Your friends are reluctant to tell you that partners change. Why would they? This is what you want now, not twenty years from now. But I guarantee my desires and priorities twenty years in the future will be at least slightly different than what they are at this moment in time. Hope my wife packed that, whatever it may be.

Landline is about long-term relationships – ones you can’t get out of, like sisterhood and parenthood, ones you shouldn’t get out of, like twenty+ year marriages, and ones that require some thought before proceeding, like fiancées, mistresses, and high school sweethearts. Dana (Jenny Slate) is getting cold feet; is her fiancée Ben (Jay Duplass) exciting enough for her? Does she even want to be excited? Say, whose idea was it to screw against a tree at a family picnic? Suffice to say, it wasn’t a good one. Do you want the kind of marriage where you’ll screw against a tree on a family picnic? If you can answer that question honestly, you’re a better person than I.

In the pre-cell days of 1995, everybody still has a Landline, which means that dad (John Turturro) has to keep the secret notes to his mistress on floppy disc. Dana and her much younger sister Ali (Abby Quinn) are horrified. Do they tell mom (Edie Falco) or not? This is one of those films in which we expect the standard comic inverse relationship between age and wisdom. Had the movie played into standard clichés, I would have found it very painful. But as it turns out, the smokin’, drinkin’, school ditchin’, wisdom spewin’ teen Ali can be just as vulnerable to idiocy as the rest of us, like when she gives into peer pressure and becomes a drug mule.

Speaking of braying asses, Dana is making some fairly questionable choices of her own – too afraid to confront her marriage apprehension, she moves back home. The entirety of my thoughts on Jenny Slate only reach as far back as Obvious Child and yet this seems a very Jenny Slate thing to do, no? This action fits perfectly in the goofy nothingness of Landline – quirky, but minimal and completely character driven, not plot driven, action – yup. That’s this film.

The tragedy of Landline is having five lovely people … and not much to do with them. Finding five worthwhile characters in a film is pretty rare. Now, if only the script gave them more to do than shower and try on Halloween costumes. Should that be enough? Landline had multiple scenes of Dana and Ali stalking their father’s office to get a hint of the other woman. In another film, we would let them identify her and then choose among a cornucopia of poor alternatives. Landline felt much more like real life – the girls fail to spot the mistress, almost get made by dad, and retreat with no new information. That’s great — you’ve successfully identified human nature, a slight comic payoff, and a benign acquiescence into the next scene. The conclusions here should be as varied as they come based on what you want from a movie. Do you want it to reflect real life or do you want an escape from it? Do you want loud confrontation or quiet acquiescence? Do you want Edward Zwick or Noah Baumbach? Fans of the latter may love Landline.

There once was a girl I knew
Who’s future in white made her blue
Her burden to carry
A Duplass to marry
I think I’d have cold feet, too

Rated R, 97 Minutes
D: Gillian Robespierre
W: Elisabeth Holm & Gillian Robespierre
Genre: Figuring out your shit
Type of person most likely to enjoy this film:  Fans of character development
Type of person least likely to enjoy this film: Simpletons

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