Film & Television

Landline: A Nostalgic Look at Unconnected Romance in the 90s

What’s less amusing is what’s going on with Ali. What begins as a smart mouth and relatively harmless rebellion becomes dangerous quickly; spurred on by a friend, she tries heroin and agrees to go buy more. Abby Quinn, who interestingly enough is just 21 and consequently was born a year after 1995, is exceptionally strong as Ali, more than holding her own with her costars. She’s also the character for whom we feel the most sympathy. If Pat and Alan, and even Dana, are disillusioned about love, they can hold themselves partly responsible. Ali, regardless of her wayward behavior, is in some ways the most idealistic of the group. And, she’s the most thrown by what’s happening to her parents. Luckily, she has her sister there.

Jenny Slate is adorable as Dana. The 35-year old actress has been working steadily for about ten years, including a season on Saturday Night Live. But, she really attracted attention when she starred in 2014’s Obvious Child, another Robespierre-Holm project about an unexpected pregnancy. More recently, she was featured as a teacher in Gifted.

Slate is a versatile actress and comedienne. She can look beautiful like a renaissance painting, or nerdy like the last girl picked for basketball. She has a distinctive voice with a slight speech impediment. And, she is inclined to snort when she laughs too hard. Here, she is a relatable and lovable heroine. Even as we watch Dana make a mess of things, we can’t help but hope for the best for her.

The actress agrees. In a recent interview with Variety, she talked about Dana’s cheating and why it’s forgivable.

“It’s not because she’s a bad person or he’s a bad boyfriend. She gets to the point that a lot of people get to in long term relationships where they start to feel that there is a stasis and realize that they’ve confused that stasis with a sense of stability and having a bond. That stasis is really unhealthy. Dana panics. I like that even though she’s a woman who makes mistakes, and she breaks hearts and causes damage, she’s not condemned as a bad person. When women are unfaithful in their sexual partnerships, they are condemned as bad people. They’re confusing their place in the patriarchy and that’s just not allowed. While it’s horrible to cheat, it sometimes happens between humans, and it’s sort of a genderless mistake.”

The characters in Landline are certainly human (except perhaps Nate who seems a little too smarmy and pleased with himself). The Jacobs make really bad decisions and hurt those they love most. There are no absolutes, just individuals doing their best. This bewilders and hurts, but they come to terms with it, with an uneasy truce if not a completely happy ending.

“Is this all there is?” Pat wonders, sitting with her two daughters on the bathroom floor.

Ali shrugs, “This isn’t so bad.”

We all got through the 90s. Blockbuster, Mad About You and even landlines may be a fading memory. But, Ali and the rest of the Jacobs will be all right.

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