If movies about benignly dysfunctional families are a fast-track to crying for you, prepare yourself appropriately for Gillian Robespierre’s Landline, which stars Edie Falco and Jenny Slate as a mother and daughter in a family where everyone is doing their (shitty) best. This thing reduced me to a puddle—but as any enthusiastic movie crier can attest, while it may have looked horrible from the outside, I was actually having a really good time. And you will too, especially if you also loved Robespierre’s last film, Obvious Child, a movie that still makes me laugh whenever I recall Slate and Gaby Hoffman’s irreverent bathroom chat about abortion.
Though set in ’90s Manhattan, Landline isn’t interested in any cool, cleaned-up version of that era. Instead, it emphasizes the inconveniences and idiosyncrasies of pre-internet life—pay phones figure prominently, and no one’s jacket seems to fit quite right. As she did in Obvious Child, Robespierre incorporates a number of things that lend a rare sense of specificity to her depiction of women’s lives. I noted the following with surprise and delight: power-suited working moms and wannabe playwright dads! Women tweezing their nipple hairs! Lorena Bobbitt jokes!
And while it does star Obvious Child’s Slate—who’s great as the family’s oldest daughter, a type-A commitment-phobe—Landline reminds me less of that film than all the best parts of Nicole Holofcener’s character studies, along with some clever, Amy Heckerling-adjacent whimsy. It’s also a romantic comedy that soundly rejects the allure of charismatic assholes in favor of milquetoast romance; its platonic ideal is essentially the reading-while-your-boyfriend-plays-video-games phase in a relationship. It’s unsexy, but very real, and that’s exactly what I’ve come to expect from Robespierre.