What can be said about Landline, a small independent feature from director Gillian Robspierre. This is the writer/director’s second feature, following the her 2009 debut, Obvious Child, which interestingly, also featured SNL alumni Jenny Slate. In Landline, Robspierre has crafted a structurally sound story that hits all the marks, despite its structure as an overly long soap opera better suited for the small screen.

Landline follows roughly two months of trials and tribulations of the Jacob family, from Labour Day to Halloween in the mid 1990s. There is Dana (Slate), a woman in her 20s who is bored in her relationship with Ben (Jay Duplass), a sexually unadventurous man interested in staying at home most nights and having vanilla sex (the opening scene features Ben and and Dana having sex in the woods at her insistence; Ben, full of anxiety, quickly finishes, leaving Dana unsatisfied). And there is Dana’s teenage sister, Ali (Abby Quinn), a rebellious kid who spends her days skipping school, smoking pot, taking acid at dance clubs and having sex with her boyfriend. In one scene, when she’s actually doing her homework, she discovers on the family computer that her dad, Alan (John Turturro), a copy writer and aspiring playwright, has written countless love poems to a mysterious woman named “C.”

She starts following her dad to work, trying to discover the identity of “C.” She involves Dana in her snooping, as Dana has temporarily moved home to escape the boredom of Ben, while engaging in a sexual infidelity with former flame Nate (Wittrock), a tall and handsome man who’s extremely sexually adventurous. Dana and Ali’s mother, Pat (Edie Falco), who has the smallest role of the four family members, is seemingly lost in the shuffle. Overly critical of Alan, whom she calls weak in front of Ali while they attempt to punish her for sneaking out at night, Pat has been aware all along of Alan’s infidelity, and goes out to a bar for one night of wild dancing with other men.

If the synopsis of the film’s plot sounds convoluted, it’s because the film is a soap opera wrapped up as a feature film. There is nothing structurally wrong with the film’s writing, as writers Robspierre and Elizabeth Helm, who also produced, wrote scenes that clearly connect and adequately foreshadow subsequent scenes. And there is an emotional resolution at the film’s concluding scene, when the family gathers at the their favourite restaurant, a Japanese joint where the chef, whom the family knows by name, cooks in front of them. But the film is an involved, exploration of the emotional numbness of one family, despite their seemingly happy Manhattan existence. The only downfall is that the exploration is spread a little too thin and is lopsided, focusing heavily on the daughters, yet only minimally on the emotional evolution of the parents. But if this is a plot that appeals to you, the film will speak volumes to you. Unfortunately, the film is unlikely to appeal to a wider audience who want more action and consequence in their films. And visually, there is little to warrant needing to see it in a theatre. It’s a movie that’ll probably find an audience on a streaming service, so when it hits your TV, enjoy it. But be prepared not to be blown away.

Is Landline Essential Viewing?

If you’re a fan of films that focus on relationships, family and consequence, you’ll be a fan of this small film, although some of the characters are unfortunately underwritten. However, if you’re more into movies with action and consequence, you’ll probably want to skip this one.

Landline opens Friday, August 4, 2017 at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity. Check their website for more information.

Landline Trailer