‘Landline’ a sad, honest rom-com – Davis, Tennon to adapt novel ‘Girls’

There’s an eye-popping scene in the new film “Landline” when our heroine is walking around New York City and decides to check her phone messages.

So get this: She walks over to some weird curb-side contraption, puts in a quarter and lifts a black plastic receiver to her ear. It gets weirder: She has to listen to each message on some sort of home-based bizarre recording machine.

For audiences of a certain age, that scene in this sweetly bittersweet drama perfectly captures the pre-cellphone, pre-Facebook era of the mid-1990s. We actually had to find pay phones and wait hours for our calls to get answered. What we did in the meantime told you something about us.

Technology back then may have been slow and adorably primitive but “Landline “ proves personal relationships were just as messy and complicated. The film might be set in 1995 but the issues it raises are always current — how hard it is to keep families together, holding onto love, forgiveness and sisterhood. It’s a rom-com but everywhere love seems to be crumbling.

“Landline” reunites much of the team behind 2014’s strong pregnancy comedy “Obvious Child” — actress Jenny Slate, director and co-writer Gillian Robespierre and co-writer Elisabeth Holm. It’s tart, sad, honest, funny, unsentimental and yet very sentimental. Hey, what can we say? The 1990s were weird. (Remember “The Macarena”?)

At the core of this film is three women at different stages of life confronting fidelity, with Slate playing a suddenly hesitant fiancee, her mother (Edie Falco, superb) simmering in what seems a broken marriage, and a rebellious younger daughter (played beautifully by Abby Quinn) unsure how to make lasting ties to people.

“I’m flailing,” Slate’s character confesses at one point and everyone onscreen can relate. “I’m just trying to figure out if the life that I’ve pick out for myself is even the one that I want.”

The two main men in the movie — John Turturro as Falco’s unhappy husband, who may be cheating, and Jay Duplass as the bewildered fiance — are somewhat underwritten (how refreshing). It’s the trio of women at the film’s heart who keep the action going, unhappy with their meager life options, trying to overcome miscommunication and excited to find their own voices.


Slate proves again to be a special talent, able to go from goofy-silly to volcanically desirous in the time it takes to gulp a Zima. Falco makes every minute of her small screen time sizzle and Quinn has great skill as a preternaturally mature teen.

“Landline” is also a delightful reminder of our past: Baggy jeans, “Mad About You” jokes, rollerblades, fuzzy toilet seat covers, floppy disks, trench coats, and the sounds of a whirring dot-matrix printer and a 10,000 Maniacs song on a stereo. Hillary Clinton delivering a speech in the background of a scene on a decidedly non-high-def TV reminds us how far — and yet how not far — we’ve come.

There are moments when the filmmakers seem a little too keen on playing up the nostalgia factor — there’s an intimate scene interrupted by a skipping CD player — but it’s clear 1995 was picked because that was still a time when technology hadn’t yet drowned us in instant communication or so completely intruded into our lives. We could still breathe a little 20 years ago.

That’s also reflected in the film’s gentle, unhurried pacing and high attention to detail, both which lend it authenticity. There’s a lot of sex — some of it passionate, some not at all— and a liberal use of drugs. But nothing is glamorized, no one is exploited and, get this, no phones yet fit in a purse.

“Landline,” an Amazon Studios release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “crude sexual content, brief nudity and language throughout.” Running time: 96 minutes. Three stars out of four.


LOS ANGELES: Viola Davis and husband Julius Tennon’s company, JuVee Productions, is partnering with EveryWhere Studios to produce a movie adaptation of Rachel Lloyd’s critically acclaimed novel “Girl’s Like Us.”

“Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale” is Lloyd’s true story about falling prey to the world of commercial sex exploitation and escaping to dedicate her life to fight that very industry.

“Viola and I are thrilled to work with the team at EveryWhere Studios,” Tennon said. “We’re moved by Rachel’s story and impressed by her commitment to helping these girls find their voice and changing the narrative on how society views them.”

Lloyd is an author and activist as well as the founder and executive director of GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, which she began when she was just 23 years old and newly transplanted to New York. Through her work at GEMS over the past 19 years, she has impacted the lives of thousands of trafficked and exploited girls and young women. Lloyd was a leading advocate for New York’s Safe Harbor for Exploited Youth Act, the first law of its kind in the country to protect rather than punish trafficked youth. She has received many fellowships and honors, including the prestigious Reebok human rights award and the national crime victims’ service award.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Viola, Julius, and their team,” said EveryWhere Studios CEO Tom Mazza. “We couldn’t ask for a more perfect synergistic partner than JuVee, with a common vision for storytelling and passion for bringing issues that plague our society to the big screen.” (Agencies)

By Mark Kennedy

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