"LANDLINE" — 2½ stars — Jenny Slate, Jay Duplass, Abby Quinn, Edie Falco, John Turturro; R (sexual content, language and drug use); Broadway
"Landline" is a crass portrait of a dysfunctional family in pre-internet New York City.
Alan (John Turturro) is the patriarch, a veteran ad man who writes poetry and performs plays on the side. He's having an affair with one of the women he acts with.
His wife, Pat (Edie Falco), is the closest thing "Landline" has to an innocent victim. Her only crime is that she allows Hillary Clinton to inspire her wardrobe.
Alan and Pat have two daughters. Dana (Jenny Slate) is a college graduate, engaged to a man named Ben (Jay Duplass). Ben does not satisfy her sexually, so when an old boyfriend (Finn Wittrock) re-enters her life, she too launches an affair.
Dana's sister Ali (Abby Quinn) is a teenager, still in high school, and eager to get her driver's license. She's also sleeping with her boyfriend, Jed (Marquis Rodriguez), and experimenting with hard drugs.
They are a vulgar and profane bunch, and self-control doesn't seem to feature on any of their resumes.
"Landline's" loose, character-driven plot is centered around Ali's discovery of her father's affair, which happens late one night when she discovers a mysterious folder on the family desktop computer, filled with erotic poetry from Alan that isn't addressed to his wife. Ali shares her discovery with Dana, which creates a kind of odd hypocritical dynamic as her older sister demonstrates feelings of anger and betrayal towards their father while fully aware that she is being unfaithful to her fiancé.
Director Gillian Robespierre weaves from storyline to storyline, exploring the threads of its individual characters while building toward the family's inevitable meltdown. Pat is justifiably paranoid about Ali's behavior, and unaware of her husband's affair. Dana has just enough of a moral center to feel guilty for her own affair, but not enough to keep her from getting into it in the first place. Ali is angry at her father, frustrated with her mother, and at times demonstrates wisdom beyond her years, yet she is a textbook smart-mouthed brat who rebels for the sake of rebelling and lacks the wisdom to resist simple peer pressure.
To "Landline's" credit, its characters are forced to pay for their sins, and eventually moves towards an awkward message of family togetherness. The only question for potential audiences is how much vulgarity and profanity they are willing to tolerate in order to make it there. Alan and company are relatable once you peel back enough layers, but there are an awful lot of layers to deal with, and more sensitive audiences will be turned off by "Landline's" ugly frankness.
"Landline" is set in the mid-1990s — hence the film's title — but the setting feels less like the context for a period piece than an excuse to include a handful of nostalgic references and easy jokes, such as auto-reverse cassettes, the TV show "Mad About You," and the aforementioned Hillary Clinton outfit.
There is an element of poignancy when Alan punishes Ali by unplugging her phone jack and taking her phone into the other room, but there's nothing about "Landline" that feels like it couldn't take place with a different family of Manhattan elites in 2017. In fact, speculating on the present condition of this dysfunctional group is one of "Landline's" more interesting intellectual exercises.
"Landline" is rated R for sexual content, language and drug use; running time: 97 minutes.