Runtime: 1hr, 23mins
Google Play, Amazon
Screwball comedy is a genre not often returned to anymore. It dates back to the 1930’s with films like It Happened One Night and Bringing Up Baby, and involves a comedic battle of the sexes - with a strong willed female lead often challenging the masculinity of the male lead. The genre also usually involves slapstick humor, absurd situations, and witty, fast-paced dialogue. Pat Healy’s feature directorial debut, Take Me, ticks nearly all of those boxes.
Healy also plays the lead character, Ray Moody, an entrepreneur aspiring to own his own business. That business is "Kidnap Solutions LLC," a peculiar service that provides the simulated experience of a high stakes abduction. He assures us, and the bank teller he tries to convince to give him a loan, that it’s used for a variety of curative reasons or simply for adrenaline junkies looking for a thrill.
An early scene even gives us a taste of the process as Ray kidnaps an overweight businessman (Jim O'Heir), ties him up in a dim room, and force feeds him a pile of burgers. The goal is to cure him of his desire for unhealthy foods. The opportunity for comedy comes as the 8 hour time slot the customer pays for ends and Moody turns from dangerous criminal to friendly businessman. While being kidnapped seems scary and potentially unsafe, the customer agrees to the process which ultimately requires a certain level of acting on their part simply because they know it’s coming. Nevertheless, the overweight man seems happy with the service he’s been given, or at the very least relieved it’s over, and that gives Ray hope he can acquire a loan to sustain this peculiar business until things pick up. He even keeps a wall of polaroids taken with his satisfied customers as mementos of successfully completed jobs.
However, as you might expect, the job is too unbelievable to be given a loan. The bank teller looks at him in disbelief despite his attempts to remain personable. He tries the old sales tactic of name repetition, but he creepily repeats the name too often. Even his salesmanship is an obvious fake. It is, however, a window into the person of Ray Moody.
Pat Healy plays him with a mix of desperation and fragility that remains in near constant battle within him. On the one hand, he needs the job, on the other he’s too nice a guy to truly hurt anyone. However, considering his line of work, niceness is a weakness his captives can see through as plain as the bad toupe covering his receding hairline. There's an obvious artificiality to Ray that causes him to doubt himself. That’s where the fragility comes in. His business depends on his ability to be a convincing actor in order to charm his way into a bank loan or to put on a scary enough show to make his captives suspend their disbelief.
Nevertheless, when a whispery female voice on the phone offers a big payout for a job that stretches his usual list of rules and regulations, he’s desperate enough take it. The voice belongs to Anna St. Blair (Taylor Schilling), a wealthy businesswoman, who comes off as an adrenaline junkie looking to be truly frightened. She leaves the specifics up to him, though she does request frequent slaps - normally against his policy - and that the kidnapping last the entire weekend rather than just 8 hours. However, it doesn’t take long to suspect her of attempting to use Ray and his “services” for her own nefarious purposes. Ray might have even said no to her if he hadn’t desperately needed the enticing payout.
When he does eventually kidnap her, he takes her to his basement dungeon where he conducts all his “simulations.” She plays along despite knowing what she’s in for. In fact, she does so so convincingly, she’s better at playing her part than he is. That is, of course, if he could decide whether or not she’s actually pretending. It doesn’t help that Ray’s sister stops by to lecture him about running his bizarre business out of their mother’s house and that he doesn’t keep the plants watered. There isn’t a moment that we, like Ray, don’t fear this whole thing could come crumbling down around him at any time. Anna physically fights him the entire way, or at least when she isn’t verbally abusing him. And the struggle she puts up only pushes Ray further than he ever thought he’d go.
Mike Makowsky’s funny and clever script contains enough twists and turns that we do start to wonder who’s who and what’s real. It’s helped by strong performances from the two leads who share enough chemistry to sustain this little film about two people trapped in mostly one location. Take Me is a rare example of a modern screwball comedy that works. It never tries for the sort of witty, fast-paced dialogue that characterized classic Hollywood screwball comedies, but it’s as good an example of the genre as I’ve seen lately.