Tzivi reviews Landline
Sometimes a filmmaker pulls a few arrows from the quiver of her own
life, takes aim, and succeeds in hitting some folks in her audience right in
their sweet spots. This is exactly what happened to me when I went to see
Gillian Robespierre’s new
Although some of the plot points in Landline
are an almost perfect match (I do have one sister but no brothers), most are
not. I grew up in the late 60s/early 70s, not the mid-90s. My mother was
Jewish, not Italian. Our home was in suburban New Jersey, not Manhattan.
So what makes Landline a
bull’s eye for me? One of the stars is practically my dad!
The central character in Landline
is Dana, a woman in her mid-twenties who has finished college and started her
climb up the career ladder. She shares an apartment with her beau and they are
planning a wedding, and yet... Everything may seem perfect on the outside, but
on the inside, something is gnawing at Dana and she is a mess.
So she tells her fiancé (Ben) that her sister (Ali) is going through
some tzuris (the Yiddish word for “trouble”),
and she moves back home. Of course Dana isn’t just making up a story from whole
cloth. Ali, a precocious high school
senior, has inadvertently discovered that their father (Alan) is cheating on
their mother (Pat), and the pressure of keeping this secret to herself has
resulted in a fair amount of acting out.
Once Ali tells Dana, they can at least fret about the situation
together. They also indulge in a bit of amateur stalking to identify the
mysterious “other woman.” And although Ben doesn’t know exactly what is
happening, he decides to play along even though he senses, quite rightly, that
Dana is using Ali’s tzuris as an excuse to avoid problems in their own
From this brief description, you might think that Alan Jacobs—the
father—is the villain of the piece, but in fact Alan Jacobs is a mensch with a
capital M. He is a devoted family man who clearly loves both of his daughters
very much, and he loves his wife Pat too. However, would that life were so simple.
John Turturro, Catholic by birth, has already played a great many Jewish
characters on screen in both historical recreations like Quiz Show (in which he played Herbie Stempel) and The Truce (in which he played Primo Levi), as well as period dramas such as Miller’s Crossing (in which he played Bernie
Birnbaum) and Unstrung Heroes (in
which he played Sid Lidz). His empathy and
Ashkenazi tam (the Yiddish word for “flavor”) likely come not just from growing
up in multi-cultural Brooklyn, but from his 30+ year marriage to actress Katherine
Borowitz (with whom he has raised two sons). So let us just say John Turturro
is “Jewish-by-Osmosis,” because “Alan Jacobs” is one of his best roles ever.
In fact, all of the actors in Landline
are at the top of their game, the wholly Jewish Jenny Slate (as Dana), the
partly Jewish Jay Duplass (as Ben), and the not at all Jewish Edie Falco (as
Pat). Since Abby Quinn, the young woman who plays Ali, is a newbee, I was
unable to find out much about her background, but she is perfect in the part,
so really, who cares. The Jacobs family is an all-American urban hybrid, and
more power to them.
This is Gillian Robespierre’s
second feature film. The first one, Obvious
Child (2014), also starred Jenny Slate. Landline
and Obvious Child—both of which were
co-created with Elisabeth Holm—share many common elements, including a loving
Jewish father played by Richard Kind and a pragmatic non-Jewish mother played
by Polly Draper. (Curiously, the name of Kind’s character in Obvious Child is… Jacob.)
In Indie terms, Obvious Child was a big hit, which is why Landline is opening at multiplexes now rather than art houses, however Landline is a much better film. Gone now is a lot of the chazerai (the Yiddish word for “garbage”) that made me cringe, even though others all around me were laughing their heads off. What remains is all heart.
In an interview
conducted by Pamela Powell during Robespierre’s recent visit to Chicago, she says this about her
parents’ divorce: “My dad and I grew closer. We started going to movies
together every weekend so my film school started with my father...” Wait a
minute! I have often had this very same thought!
Landline opens locally on Friday July 28th at the AMC River East in Streeterville, the Arclight on North Clybourn, the Century in Evanston, and the Regal on Webster. Check Fandango for schedule information.
Alan with his daughters Ali (Abby Quinn) and Dana (Jenny
Photo Credits: Landline, an Amazon Studios release. Photos courtesy of Amazon Studios.