MOVIE REVIEW: Landline
“LANDLINE”-- 2 STARS
If the Windy City can show us anything, it’s that die-hard Chicago Cub fans come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. More so, fans come from different walks of life, waving flags of different colors, including, best of all, the rainbow-colored variety. “Landline,” from local do-it-all filmmaker Matthew Aaron, is a fun-loving LGBTQ+ comedy merging ardent North Siders with snappy musings on our societal obsessions with technology, all in proximity to the heavenly palace that is Wrigley Field.
The 30-something Ted (Aaron himself) we meet is a wandering schlub pinched for an erroneous liquor store theft. He tells his disillusioned story in cuffs to the stressed suburban cop on the case (Nick Searcy of “Justified” and “Castaway”). As it turns out, he’s an extremely successful city advertising executive for the exasperated Fiona Sanders (“Breaking Bad” vet Betsy Brandt) and their firm just landed the Cubs as a lucrative PR account. Ted was primed for a promotion to lead the upcoming campaign only to be passed over in favor of the younger, snarkier, and social media-savvy Barry (Chad Michael Singer) and his brown-nosing clueless sidekicks.
The career gut punch pushed Ted into the minor tailspin that brought his present predicament. The anticipated raise in salary was supposed to pay for his dream home to share with his dreamy and supportive husband Jack (Patrick Haritgan). Instead, Ted blows up and quits it all. He begins to rant and rave about how much personal communication should be winning over virtual followings, leading him to drop all his technology in favor of old school connectivity.
“Landline” is Matthew Aaron’s third film and first to debut for public audiences. For a green first-timer, he gathered some pretty impressive “gets” for this little film, starting with Searcy’s little smidge of swagger and Brandt relishing her slice of the spotlight as the emphatic workplace referee. The boisterous duo of Tom Arnold and “Parks and Recreation” favorite Jim O’Heir drop in often as Ted’s chop-busting father and uncle. I don’t know about you, but I could watch those two guys alone ham it up for hours and rattle rafters with their belly laughs at each other’s digs.
The best treat of all is the terrific stamp of approval from the Chicago Cubs (watch Matthew speak about the production and Cubs involvement). The newly-minted World Champion MLB team rarely grants their logo and facilities to many film productions, let alone a grassroots film on this small scale. The extended cameo of Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg, Aaron's personal hero, riding along for a few gags and lines is the cherry on top.
Critically speaking, “Landline” carries plenty of sloppy fits and spurts of mismatched workplace and domestic life story tangents and contrivances. There’s a better movie hiding in here that needs more shaving and whittling. Through the lead character’s bluster, “Landline” has a solid possible thread of social commentary about unplugging. Unfortunately, its platform takes too long to arrive and repeatedly unravels over and over like a loosely-tied shoelace on your favorite gym shoe or baseball cleat. Those hits-and-misses are masked at some points, and regrettably amplified at other times, by harmless, but sometimes unbearable, overacting and on-the-nose stereotypes.
Thankfully, the good intentions and proud LGBTQ+ representation here are benign in favor of a good time. The smiles come easy. “Landline” celebrates its world premiere on March 26 at Chicago’s treasured Music Box Theatre. The film will start a screening run there on March 31 before spreading to VOD platforms on April 4. Soak up the sunny and serene Lakeview exteriors on screen, crack open a Lagunitas, power down your device, and give it a shot.
LESSON #1: TELL YOUR SPOUSE IMPORTANT NEWS FIRST-- Ted has a terrible habit in this film of making impulsive decisions without running them by Jack. He’s not the first married man to do that or the last, but, for a guy preaching better communication, he makes his fair share of ironic mistakes. Thankfully, Jack is a forgiving spouse.
LESSON #2: FANDOM BRINGS OUT THE BEST AND WORST IN PEOPLE-- Working for your heroes is a pretty sweet gig and will make the productivity of your outcomes and all of the hard work to get there more meaningful. Contrastly, your fandom will lead you to try too hard sometimes and take the business end too personally. Focus on the job, enjoy yourself in measured moments, and save the real celebration when the work is done.
LESSON #3: LOOSEN YOUR DEPENDENCE ON TECHNOLOGY-- Yes, it sure is nice to have every means of communication and knowledge at our fingertips through remarkable handheld devices and their applications. In a meme-tastic way, I too remember our school teachers telling us wouldn’t be able to carry calculators everywhere we go. Technology is wonderful, but it will never be a replacement for direct communication and in-person connection. Put down the phone, shake a hand, look people in the eye, and converse with folks in person.