There is a formula to the road movie. The protagonists must travel a great distance in an impossibly short amount of time. For some reason, early on, everyone runs out of money and only realizes it at an inopportune moment, forcing the travelers to devise hare-brained schemes to fund their odyssey. At some point, their source of transportation fails, leading them from planes to trains to automobiles. And if the movie happens to star a man and a woman, you can bet dollars to doughnuts that, even if they initially despise each other or if one of them is currently romantically involved, they’re going to hook up. Take a moment and think of the examples: Road Trip. The Sure Thing. The little-known rom-com Overnight Delivery starring Paul Rudd and Reese Witherspoon.
And following these guidelines, Take Me Home is much like any other road trip movie, but also considerably different, since the people on its journey aren’t so young and naive and hapless and horny as the stars of some of the previously mentioned films. We start in New York City. Thom (Sam Jaeger, the film’s writer, director, and producer and an actor on TV’s Parenthood) is an unemployed photographer who’s just been kicked out of his apartment; he moonlights illegally as a cab driver to make quick cash. Meanwhile, Claire (Amber Jaeger, Sam’s real-life wife), just hours after confronting her husband for possibly having an affair, discovers that her father has just had a heart attack in California. She leaves her office that night and, in the kind of simple twist of fate that only a movie can provide, Claire hails Thom’s taxi. She commands him to simply “drive,” and in what may be an act of spite, he complies — by the time she wakes up, they’re in Pennsylvania. Claire decides to one-up Thom (who she thinks is a registered cab driver named Dan), agreeing to pay him $1,000 a day to drive her to the Golden State. The characters go through a period of we-dislike-each-other-now-but-you-know-we’re-going-to-end-up-together tension, stumbling into obstacles along the way, from Claire losing her purse to an awkward encounter with Thom’s parents in Colorado to the car breaking down in the middle of a desert.
This is certainly a road trip film for 30-somethings, its characters making stops at outlet malls while dealing with issues of career and marriage and other early mid-life crises. Thom’s a poor man’s Aaron Eckhart, attractive and charming despite his lacking lot in life; his whole world is in the trunk of his fake cab. Claire puts up a stoney front, hidden behind a face that’s remarkably made up even though she spends most of the trip sleeping in a car and showering who knows when. Still, as you watch her save a sprouting plant from its pavement home, you can tell Claire still has an optimistic side even as her world collapses around her.
There is a charm and maturity to Take Me Home that the average road movie lacks. The film has some laugh-out-loud, especially witty moments throughout the film — when Thom freeloads off of a hotel breakfast buffet, for example. But an audience may be most appreciative of this story’s outcome. Things aren’t instantly wrapped up into a neat little package. By the time we reach the end of Take Me Home, months have passed, and the characters have grown and changed. And that’s what makes it a bit more realistic than the typical trappings of its niche genre.
Take Me Home will screen at the Olde North Charleston Picture House (4820 Jenkins Ave.) on Sat. April 28 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $2 for Greater Park Circle Film Society members and $5 for non-members. See parkcirclefilms.org for more info.