Review by Willard Manus

There’s a Yiddish expression, “tsores mit kinder” (trouble with children) that sums up the theme of LANDLINE, the new indie feature directed by Gillian (“Obvious Child”) Robespierre.

John Tuturro and Edie Falcon star as the beleaguered parents of two young daughters, Dana (Jenny Slate) and Ali (Abby Quinn), who run wild during the course of the story, having sex in and out of doors with various partners, taking ‘ludes, smoking grass, sniffing heroin, stealing money and ditching school. All the while they keep up a steady stream of talk, most of it bawdy and bitchy, alternately cracking each other up or causing the other to weep in anguish.

New York City in the Studio 54 era serves as the backdrop for LANDLINE, which was co-written by Robespierre and Elisabeth Holm.

Produced by Amazon, the film premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and is now in general release.

Several scenes take place in a facsimile of Studio 54, that infamous 1995 night-club where whites and blacks, straights and gays lost their inhibitions to the pulsing beat of rock music and openly indulged in sex and drugs. That includes Dana and Ali, who carried on uninhibitedly with boys while their upper-middle-class parents, Pat (Falco) and Alan (Tuturro) sit at home, wondering just where in hell they have gone wrong in life.

To make things worse, Alan and Pat were having relationship problems, largely because the former, an ad man who really wanted to be a playwright, had launched an affair with a woman in his office. Reason being, he bellows after being caught out, was the lack of respect his wife was showing him at home (“you think I’m a wimp, don’t you?”)

Pat is the most complex and sympathetic character in the film, a once-handsome woman now feeling her age, in a resentful, self-loathing way made worse by the inability to connect with her daughters.

Falco brings out Pat’s different sides in a skillful way, creating a vivid portrait of a flawed but essentially decent, caring woman who just can’t deal with the problems life keeps flinging at her.

Tuturro also gives a nuanced performance as the head of this typically dysfunctional family. A rebel and an artist at heart, he can’t be too judgmental when his girls mess up, not even when they get busted in Harlem for trying to purchase drugs. What also makes him hold his tongue is the knowledge that both Dana and Ali are aware of his clandestine love affair.

Robespierre and Holm are at the top of their game when they deal with the complicated relationship between Pat and her two daughters. The three of them might fight like hell and call each other vile names, but when crunch-time comes, they still manage to be there for each other.

It’s the female-centric sensibilities of LANDLINE that lift the film out of the ordinary. A blackly comic study of how too much freedom can sometimes be a bad thing, LANDLINE also reminds us of the healing qualities of forgiveness and love. It’s these qualities that give the film a welcome bit of warmth and humanity.