I could watch Edie Falco, John Turturro, or Jenny Slate watch paint dry, stare at a bug, wash dishes…whatever they want to do, I will watch.
When I get to watch these actors in a cohesive film or show, I consider it a bonus. When I get to watch them all together in a film, well that's just beyond. That's what Landline gives us; a warm plot, a down to earth portrayal of Manhattan (if that's possible), and several dynamic character portraits, all set in the perfectly recreated mid 1990's.
The plot of this movie is fine, it does its job, gluing the characters together in a meaningful way, and resists taking too many sensationalized liberties with respect to family dynamics. The deeply impressive parts of this film are the subtleties it maintains from beginning to end and the characters that deliver these subtleties. As I said, three of the four actors are actors I could watch do anything, and in many ways, this film lets us do just that. We get to watch Edie Falco play a betrayed wife who is as shocked and lost as she is searching and acquiescent of her marital situation. Viewers can simply enjoy watching her cleaning her house, obsessing over what must be her marriage, children, and maybe her own misplaced identity. We can enjoy watching her walk into a bar, in what seems to be the first time in many years, order a drink, and dance with a man she will never see again… just to feel alive, visible… relevant.
In the same vein we get to watch Turturro try to stay engaged in his marriage, carry out the easy verbal volleys of a soft hearted father, tossing out loving sarcastic quips to his young adult daughters…while at the same time clearly not avoiding a passionate love affair. He tries hard to choose his family while simultaneously reveling in the adoration of "the other woman," the woman who admires him, who boosts him up, makes him feel like the man he wants to be. He believes he can do both. We love and hate his character, but unquestionably, we love watching him try; try to eat a casual dinner with his in-tact family, try to sit, without emotion, on the couch and watch TV, grab a hot dog from a street vendor, go to work… trying to keep things together, trying to keep things light, trying to keep the monotonous momentum that he likely thinks his family needs to stay together.
Then there is Jenny Slate. We love watching Slate because she is soft and sweet and then a total freaking time bomb, stock piling courage in order to mess up, throwing a wrench in her plan, and questioning the path she suddenly feels has been chosen for her. Viewers can feel her dread, like watching a character stand on a moving sidewalk with no exit, as her life becomes small and all too predictable. We get to see her cling to "normal" and predictable, and then we get to see her destroy 'normal,' and then finally, regret that destruction and desperately crave a predictable love. Viewers will love watching her swim, eat, dance, and walk the streets of a 1990's New York. We bathe ourselves in her punchy straightforward banter, her willingness to be un-cool, and then incredibly beautiful.
Don't watch this movie with the hopes of it forever changing your mind about how you feel about relationships, or to change your mind about anything likely. It doesn't strive to do this. I'm not sure it's striving for anything, except to slow us down, appreciate these mini-moments that make up our whole life. Perhaps, if it is striving for any iota of an artistic influence on the personal intellect, it may be to remind us that we have choices, that those choices have consequences, and that the best and worst part of the best and worst consequences will affect our relationships… and our relationships are all we have.
By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, and a BA in Communication & Culture, is a Certified Life Coach, and can often be found hiding in her laundry room from her two children. More about her on her website.
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