At 33, filmmaker Matthew Aaron doesn’t feel like he’s over the hill just yet, even if - as he admits - the industry around him has other ideas. After being passed over for the likes of social media-savvy millennials for several professional gigs in the past, Aaron decided to translate his frustrations with our tech-obsessed culture into a charming little movie about love, connection, and one man’s undying commitment to the Chicago Cubs - all while making history for the LGBT community in the process.
Thus, Landline was born: a micro-budget, independent comedy spun with Chicago-bred heart as it follows a PR exec, Ted (Aaron), who misses out on a big promotion at work thanks to a younger colleague who’s got the upper hand when it comes to technology. Ted then embarks on a comedic journey of self-discovery, cutting himself off from the digital world (he gives up his cell phone and the internet) and returning to a simpler way of life so he and his husband can scrape together the funds to move into their dream home.
While the film’s message about genuine relationships amid an era ruled by cyber ties is relevant to the ever-evolving cultural landscape, it’s the LGBT-related themes that are making waves on the indie scene. According to Aaron, with the help of MLB’s Robin Jaffe, the film became the first film with queer characters to earn licensing support from a national sports league.
“In my research, there’s never been a film that stars LGBTQ actors made with the association of the MLB, the NBA, the NFL, or the NHL,” Aaron tells EW of the film, which also stars Parks and Recreations Jim O’Heir and comedy staple Tom Arnold as Ted’s supportive uncle and father, respectively. “[But] it’s not a film about being gay. It’s about two husbands who are going through their marriage together - typical, normal problems that everyone has.”
Though major productions like Moneyball and Fever Pitch have prominently featured MLB properties in the past, Landline was made for a fraction of what those films cost to produce - around $250,000, which could’ve served as a potential roadblock in securing the league’s support. But its underdog status actually helped in the end.
“We never thought we were going to get [licensing for] the Cubs, and we never thought we’d get [to shoot at] Wrigley Field. We were just hoping that my character would be able to wear a Cubs jersey here and there for a couple thousand dollars,” Aaron explains. “Robin really wanted to support indie filmmaking, which they’ve never done before, and they wanted to support this film. To top it all off, they wanted to support a film with LGBTQ leads in it.”
Aaron says he was enthused by the MLB’s willingness to work with him, but, since Landline wrapped, he’s often troubled by the lack of support he’s received from the LGBT media, particularly because he made a point to hire community performers in prominent roles, including trans actor Avi Roque, who appears in Landline alongside several gay cast members.
“When you go to [media outlets] and 90 percent of what they put up is pictures of shirtless dudes and dudes in their underwear, the other 10 percent is relevant, but [they don’t] want to talk about artists who are actually progressing our cause. I do feel that this is somewhat of a historical film in my community,” Aaron notes.
The city of Chicago, on the other hand, served him well as he made the picture. Aaron tries to capture the spirit of the city in each film he makes, with the ultimate goal of doing for Chicago what Edward Burns and Spike Lee did for New York City. He starts by scouting unique locations, many of which make appearances in Landline; most notably a loft apartment building that Al Capone once used to make booze during Prohibition.
“Everyone who comes [to Chicago] to shoot these studio projects... I feel there’s an authenticity that’s been missing since John Hughes passed or maybe since Chris Columbus stopped making films in Chicago,” he says. “Chicago’s a character.”
Not only does the urban setting provide a tangible backdrop for Landlines action, Aaron also cast local personalities (former Cubs player Ryne Sandberg has a small role) and friends to capture the close-knit vibe of the city he loves. Journalist Bruce Fretts, whom Aaron wrote a small (but integral) part for, tells EW the social significance of the writer-director’s latest venture made it easy for him to slide into feature film acting for the first time.
“[The fact that Ted is gay] is just taken as a matter of fact, that nobody would have an issue with that. That sets it apart from other LGBTQ films, where it’s about otherness and oppression. This movie is a light comedy, so there’s no room for that anyway, but there’s a great spirit about. It’s just like, this guy’s gay, he’s a Chicago guy, he’s a Cubs fan, and there’s nothing stereotypical about it. It’s just there, but just being there in some ways makes it kind of a more radical statement about how far we’ve come as a society,” Fretts says. “It’s a gay baseball movie. That’s never been done before... it’s kind of quietly revolutionary. My joke is it’s Moonlight for fat, bald, gay people. [At least] you have to be one of the three to be in it.”
Landline hits VOD Tuesday, April 4.