Friday, October 7, 2011

Chicago Film Festival - "Take Me Home"

Over the years, there have been hundreds of films from Hollywood and many other corners of the cinematic globe that have been about two souls that never met, but somehow were meant for each other. Film makers around the world know #1) that opposites attract and #2), audiences love to see stories with this theme.

The latest in this category is Take Me Home, written and directed by Sam Jaeger (one of the stars of the television series Parenthood); he also stars in the movie with his wife Amber. This is a charming work, one that features smart dialogue and down to earth people. It does get a bit cute at times, but overall, this is an enjoyable film that is a worthwhile addition to the collection of the will-they-or-won't-they-get together movies.

The film's premise is a simple one. Thom (Sam Jaeger) has been a bit of a bust in his professional life in New York City and in an effort to make some extra money, drives an unlicensed cab he bought at auction. While that helps his situation a bit, he still can't pay the rent and one day he finds that his landlord has thrown all of his possessions out of the apartment out into the hallway. Sensing that he can't go any lower, he gets in his cab that evening and seeks some fares - and perhaps an answer to his prayers.

At the very moment that Thom is being evicted from his place, Claire (Amber Jaeger), a professional business woman who works for a non-profit organization, has an argument with her husband, whom she suspects of cheating on her. That is only the start of the bad news for her, as she soon receives a phone call informing her that her father in California has suffered a heart attack. Stunned and without any real focus in her life, she heads out of her office down to the street and flags a cab - which, of course, is the one Thom is driving. 

Her request to Thom is simple - drive, don't worry about where, just drive. She can't handle all the bad news at the moment and she needs to be alone with her thoughts. Thom wants to get a handle on her situation, but he knows better, so keeps his mouth shut and does exactly what he's told - he drives. In fact, he drives so far that the next morning, they wind up in the middle of Pennsylvania!

Claire needs to get to California to see her father, but Thom doesn't know why, so when she tells him her proposed destination, he balks at this, until she tells him she will pay him a total of $1000 a day, plus room and board. Thom agrees and it's off on their cross-country tour.

Along the way, Thom and Claire learn about each other and the deceptions in their lives. At first, it's man versus woman, but ultimately as the journey goes sour and they run short on money, they turn to basic survival. One of the most clever sequences takes place when they pull up the cab at the airport in Omaha to pick up fares. They charge one passenger $48 for the adventurous journey to his house, but when he complains that it's normally $25, that's what they accept. They work this scheme for a little while longer and pick up some gas and food money, but they need to move on.

Another scene that works quite well takes place after Claire decides to take over the wheel for one evening. I won't give any plot details away here, but the location at which they wind up is one that forces them to look at who they are, what they are doing and ultimately, what each one is running away from. This is a critical scene in the film that is quite well written and nicely directed.

If there were more scenes such as this, I would have given a strong recommendation to Take Me Home. However, as I mentioned earlier, the film does play cute from time to time, which adds little to the overall qualities of this work. The characters are nicely defined and portrayed, but there are too many predictable scenes, as when they meet Thom's parents. How we meet them is a surprise, but as the scene plays out, it  just doesn't have the uniqueness of other moments in the film.

However, there are enough well-written scenes and enough light comic moments to make the film an enjoyable and pleasant experience. Take Me Home works on the surface level - take Claire home to see her father, but it also is a journey home for both Thom and Claire - who are they trying to be at the end of the day? That, in reality, is a more important journey.

P.S. I also want to applaud Sam Jaeger for resisting the urge to go for cheap humor. Over the past few years, I've seen too many Hollywood films (mostly on planes, which is where they deserve) that seem to want to please only the most base of tastes. These films make fun of people, sometimes in a light manner, but too often in a mean way. I just don't think this shows any sophistication on the part of the filmmakers. 

Sam Jaeger has written a screenplay that respects its characters as well as the meaning of family and friendship. Those emotions will never go out of fashion.

Take Me Home will be shown at the Chicago International Film Festival at 8:00 PM on Saturday, October 8 and at 2:15 on Friday, October 14.

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