Younger readers might not be aware of this, but the nineties were awesome. A Clinton in the White House, a budget surplus, no wars, no smartphones, and the best music since the sixties. This isn't an opinion, I'm afraid. It's a fact. The nineties were the best.
Set in the summer of 1995, the comedy-drama Landline picks up on that decade's pre-millennial optimism in its story of two upper-middle-class Manhattan sisters who see an intoxicating world unfolding before them. Jenny Slate plays Dana, a recently engaged, twentysomething graphic designer who senses that she really can Have It All, and then dutifully proceeds to screw it all up. Fear of failure, it seems, is nothing compared to fear of success.
Abby Quinn plays Ali, Dana's seventeen-year-old sister, a good-hearted but increasingly reckless club kid scared by her own bright future. Ali procrastinates on her college applications and samples various drugs at raves, hoping to derail her own life. She's afraid she won't live up to the expectations of her parents, played by Edie Falco and John Turturro, who have issues of their own. When the sisters discover that their dad is having an affair, the intrigue provides a welcome distraction until it becomes clear that this loving family is in genuine peril.
Landline is a happy reunion for director Gillian Robespierre and her muse, Slate. Their previous collaboration, Obvious Child, was one of 2014's best, funniest films. Here, they expand on their unique dynamic by telling a story that swerves from poignant confessions through filthy jokes and back again to complex matters of the heart. All the performers deliver, and there is some seriously courageous emotional honesty on display concerning love and sex, fear and failure, family and loss.
Lest this all sound too heavy, rest assured that Landline is plenty funny, too. The comedy flows organically, in and around the scenarios, flaring up at unexpected times—just like in real life. The movie wears its nineties cultural references lightly, and it's fun to see people using pay phones again, not to mention shopping in CD stores and cueing up PJ Harvey and the Breeders.
In rhythm and tone, Landline is in the same key as other Sundance-style indie comedies—The Kids Are All Right, My Sister's Sister, Twentieth Century Women. But it has a secret weapon in Slate, who's quickly becoming one of the most interesting screen actors working today. Her range really is astonishing, I can't think of any other performer who can make me laugh hard, then cry hard, within thirty seconds. Seriously, I timed it.