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Critics' Pick

Landline (R)

Comedy 96 min. July 21, 2017
By Alan Scherstuhl
Jenny Slate's laughter comes out in a wild gush, as though she's been shaken and uncorked, the sound somehow puppyishly sweet and punkishly impolite. Her characters, cheery cynics, often fail to quite match the mood of a room, so their amused eruptions can hurt feelings, stir bafflement, inspire the ol' stinkeye from the stiffs worth laughing at. In Landline, Gillian Robespierre's warm yet prickly comedy, Slate's uncertain Dana shakes off her jitters about her engagement to a drab fiancé (Jay Duplass) by smoking a joint with a foxy alpha (Finn Wittrock) she used to hook up with in college.
It's 1995, and they're at a dead-serious drone-guitar performance in a dingy Lower Manhattan club. Almost immediately, Dana's joyous cackles -- plus her jokes and belches and thoughts about the tightness of Helen Hunt's Mad About You pants — prove too much for the venue. Much of the film asks whether this world offers a right place for women like Dana and her teenage sister, Ali (superb newcomer Abby Quinn), to be their truest selves -- whether they're always going to be too noisy, too opinionated, too open about wanting more.

The sisters' relationship is caustic and combative at first. But soon they're drunk and dancing, liberated in each other's presence, goading each other into being -- even confessing their secrets. That happens early in the film. What follows is, to borrow the word Dana uses to describe her life, "flailing," but of a romantic sort: The love story here is of the sisters discovering that one can give love and that one deserves it back, even if she wakes up hungover, her pillow caked in vomit.
Gillian Robespierre Jenny Slate, Finn Wittrock, John Turturro, Edie Falco, Amy Carlson Elisabeth Holm Magnolia Pictures

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