Maybe Tolstoy was wrong. Maybe dysfunctional families are all the same, too.
“Landline” is a story about a long-married couple and their grown and almost-grown daughters, set in 1995. The title reflects the era’s telephones, which were plugged into walls, and also suggests the connections among family members.
As the story opens in early September, we learn that Ali, a high school senior, is acting out in typically adolescent ways — cutting classes, sneaking out at night, having sex with a not-official boyfriend and avoiding the college application process.
Dana, the older daughter, acts out after she begins to wonder whether she should marry her nice but schlubby fiancé.
The father acts out and has an affair, apparently because his wife disdains his career achievements and also because he suspects that his part-time playwriting is not particularly good either.
An hour or so into the movie, even the mother, who has played the family heavy through all the drama, does a little fantasy acting out as well.
On Halloween evening, these plot lines meet up in a crescendo and then resolve themselves in a plausible ending. Through it all, there is yelling and flouncing around, but the characters behave as real people in a real family might behave. All very credible.
The actors are fine, the cinematography is fine, the dialogue is fine and the 90s details (pay phones, computer discs, music on CDs) are fine. But somehow it doesn’t work.
In the end, the characters matter to each other but not so much to the audience, which never is invested in how the story will resolve itself. In fact, the story resolves itself as might be expected. As a result there is no tension and the pacing feels slack.
It’s not bad, exactly, but I wish I could say I liked it better.
Each of last weekend’s two major movie releases disappointed in ways that could have been anticipated.
“The Dark Tower,” based on an eight-book, meticulously plotted Stephen King fantasy series, was seen as ridiculously short at 95 minutes — this despite the casting of always-watchable Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. Presumably this picture was built to launch a series, but a second approach might be in order.
“Detroit,” a based-on-the-facts story about the 1967 riots in that city, is seen as too long. Given most viewers’ unfamiliarity with the long-ago event, a documentary treatment might have been more illuminating and have offered more in the way of context.