Chicago native and Second City alum Matthew Aaron writes, directs, and stars in the new, wildly funny LGBQT film “Landline.” The film captures the ups and downs of marriage, the stresses of work life, and what happens when we give up technology in today’s world, all as it embraces the host city of the film, Chicago. Ted (Aaron) loses a big promotion at his PR agency who represents the Chicago Cubs to a young, hip tech savvy and very caddy young man. Wallowing in his sorrow, Ted rebukes modern gadgets like cell phones and attempts to not only win back his husband, but get his job and rightful promotion back as well.
The film begins as we meet Ted who has been arrested as he appears to be a wandering vagrant in a rural area. He attempts to explain to the police officer who is more than annoyed at the fact that he has been pulled away from watching his favorite TV show (and the DVR is full so his wife can’t make it work), as to why he was wandering aimlessly. As Ted begins to explain, we are transported back to the beginning…the day that changed his life.
Ted is banking on being the lead on the Chicago Cubs account, but when he learns that Fiona (Betsy Brandt), his boss, has given the promotion to a lesser qualified, yet tech savvy and snotty young colleague, it is more than he can handle. Twitter, Facebook, followers, and anything else on the phone is just not his ball game. This is just one of the hurdles placed in the path of Ted and Jack’s (Patrick Hartigan) marriage. Ted then quits his job and surrounds himself with friends who lack a bit of drive and motivation, to say the least. Looking for answers, Ted meets a stranger who is carrying a sundial. Who needs a watch? This stranger’s influence on Ted pushes him
into a new realm of life as things get a little fuzzy for him. One bad decision seems to beget another until he finds himself with no phone and in a lock up cell.
The characters in “Landline” are wonderfully exaggerated, no matter their relationship to Ted. Betsy Brandt portrays the epitome of an overworked boss and mother-figure with incompetent and juvenile employees, set to pounce on one another to get ahead. The three colleagues’ overly dramatic and comedically sarcastic personas play off of one another and are balanced by Ted’s seemingly rational outlook.
Jim O’Heir and Tom Arnold have significant roles as Ted’s uncle and father creating a wonderful side story that is as funny as it is endearing. Their camaraderie is so natural it wouldn’t be surprising to find out that much of their dialogue is off the cuff. Relationships are at the core of this film and seeing a gay couple experiencing the same issues as any other couple is quite refreshing, even if much of what happens is over-the-top. Aaron and Patrick Hartigan (Jack) are equally believable as the married couple, miscommunicating, fighting, and living day to day, as we all do. There is also a genuine and very natural connection between the two.
“Landline” pays tribute to so many wonderful treasures in the Windy City. From well-known icons such as the Cubs and plenty of cameos from the legendary Ryne Sandberg to lesser known gems like Stan’s Donuts and Ann Sather’s cinnamon rolls, “Landline” is a Chicago film. Although some of the scenes feel a bit stilted and some of the edits a bit abrupt, these don’t take away from the entertainment this film provides. Rarely do you see an LGBQT film that allows itself to be so comfortable in portraying relationships in a very ordinary way. The gay relationship really isn’t even a part of the story, it’s just who these two men are. And their ordinary interactions are things we can all relate to…I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told my husband he’s not going to wear THAT shirt out! The story truly is just fun escapism, and a jaunt through Chicago’s north side,pushing the envelope of what could happen if one person rejected today’s technology in the work place and in life.
Aaron is able to carefully balance the job of writer, director and lead actor in this funny and bold film. Incorporating veteran comic actors such as O’Heir and Arnold add a level of professionalism to this film without overwhelming it. While there are a few rough parts of the film, it still shines, giving Chicago a lot of pride in our city, our diverse population, and our filmmakers.