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 film Landline.
Although some of the plot points in Landlineare 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 Landlineis 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 relationship.
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 Landlineare 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. Landlineand 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 Childwas a big hit, which is why Landlineis 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.
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
Landline, an Amazon Studios release.
Photos courtesy of Amazon Studios.