Sundance: How That Hillary Clinton Flashback in 'Landline' Came to Be
"When we wrote it, before the election happened, we thought it would get a cheer."
When the co-writers of Landline snuck a Hillary Clinton flashback into their 1990s-set dramedy, the pair imagined the moment eliciting an eruption of applause by the time it hit the big screen.
"When we wrote it, before the election happened, we thought it would get a cheer," writer-producer Elisabeth Holm told The Hollywood Reporter. "We knew there would be some kind of audible response."
But during the film's world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, which happened to take place on inauguration day, the sound uttered by the post-election audience at Park City, Utah's Eccles Theater was that of a collective and heavy sigh.
In the scene, Edie Falco and John Turturro, who play the parents in Landline's dysfunctional family, pause a tense conversation when a 1995 Clinton, delivering her famed Beijing speech, broadcasts through their television. The pair become transfixed on Clinton's words for a few moments, with Falco's character, Pat, also admiring Clinton's statement pink pantsuit.
"It was written kind of tongue in cheek, where we thought, 'Wow, we get to have a clip of this woman who has been in politics for 30 years, and she’ll be our president by the time we're at Sundance,' " writer-director Gillian Robespierre told THR while celebrating the film at Route One's private reception for Landline and Colossal in the Rand Luxury Lounge at the St. Regis Deer Valley. "Pat is such a strong woman — their stories parallel because they’re both strong women."
But the timing of the scene added an extra layer to the pair's intention: "Turns out, it made the scene a little bit more sad."
Landline, which was sold to Amazon in a $3 million deal with plans for a theatrical release, reteams Robespierre with her Obvious Child star Jenny Slate (another Sundance success story). Slate plays the oldest of two daughters in a New York City family. Her fiance is played by Jay Duplass, and her younger sister is played by newcomer Abby Quinn.
"While I hate that [Hillary Clinton] is not our president," added Robespierre, "I do love how the scene plays with this darkness and sadness behind it, which it was intended to have, where Pat's dodging her husband’s affection, and you’re not quite sure why."
Returning to Sundance this year was bittersweet for Robespierre and Holm. The pair wanted to introduce Landline to the world, but felt like they were leaving their fellow New York City and Washington, D.C., marchers behind. So they were pleasantly surprised when the March on Main, led by Chelsea Handler, came together, a 4,000-person-plus Sundance showing that coincided with sister marches in all 50 states, as well as in 20 countries around the world, on Jan. 21.
"It’s really cool that the festival is doing everything they can to amplify artists’ voices and be part of the conversation and help change the conversation," Holm added of the events happening at Sundance, which concludes on Sunday. "At first, we were wanting to be somewhere else, but it feels really good to be surrounded by a lot of incredibly passionate, smart, thoughtful people who want to tell stories and inspire empathy."
The co-writers marched alongside both Slate and Quinn, who was making her Sundance debut. Quinn, born in 1996 — making her "negative 1" in the year the film is set — shared the same mixed feelings while attending the premiere, but was also taken aback by the mood on Main Street.
"It didn’t seem like a somber day at all," she told THR. "It sounded like people were hopeful because they are so determined to make a change. It felt like: Look at how many people came together for this. We can make a change if this many people believe in it."
See what the rest of the cast had to say about Landline when they stopped by THR's Sundance lounge below.