This week’s road trip movie that I am breaking down per the Hero’s Journey is Take Me Home, an independent film written, directed, and produced by Sam Jaeger from the TV show Parenthood. I first saw it at the Albuquerque Film Festival in 2011, where, to my giddy surprise, Sam Jaeger himself was present for a Q&A. I pretty much gushed to him how much I loved this movie and could not wait until he worked out wider distribution. It is now available on Netflix, and I have already rented and streamed it multiple times.
From the Netflix synopsis:
“Thom is an unlicensed New York cabbie who takes on the fare of his life when a woman asks him to drive her to California to see her ailing father. In classic rom-com style, the chemistry between the two builds as they make their way west.”
Warning: If you have not yet seen this movie, you might want to check it out first. Full spoilers ahead that don’t do this movie justice.
Thom, an unlicensed NYC cab driver at his day job, is trying unsuccessfully to get paying work as a photographer, his passion job. Claire, reeling from the suspicion that her husband is having an affair, receives a message from her mom telling her that her father is in a hospital in California.
Call to Adventure
Lack of el casho gets Thom evicted from his apartment. He starts cabbing again, and picks up a fare who flags him down outside an office building at night. It is the distraught Claire: “Just drive.” To Thom’s horror, Claire bursts into tears.
Refusal of the Call
Claire wakes to find that it is now morning and Thom has driven all night as she commanded, and that they are now in Pennsylvania. She insists he take her back immediately, even though they are on the highway and can’t just turn around.
Meeting with the Mentor
After Thom pulls off on the side of the road, Claire gets out and hurls her purse in frustration. As she is picking up her stuff, she looks up through the trees and sees the sun shining through the leaves. She knows what she has to do.
Crossing the First Threshold
Claire tells Thom to drive her to California. He is like nope. Not doing this. She says she’ll pay him. They haggle on the price and he agrees to take her. Claire formally introduces herself to her new road trip companion. He lets her think his name is Dan, the fake name displayed on his fake cab license.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
The snarky sparky repartee is flying. Claire annoys Thom by going on a shopping spree at a mall and decorating the back dash of the cab with candles and river rocks; Thom annoys Claire at a diner with his nonstop questions about her life and yammering about the futility of marriage. Thom falls asleep at the wheel and almost drives them off the highway. Claire has just about had it with his ass.
When they try to check in to a motel for the night, Claire realizes that she’s lost her purse. Nothing like having no money and no place to sleep to make tempers flare. “You sure do cry a lot” was not the smartest thing for Thom to say. Claire lunges at him from the back seat and a comically physical tussle in the front seat of the cab ensues. Next thing you know Claire wakes up and is disconcerted to find herself in a very couple-y embrace with the still slumbering Thom.
When Claire goes to use the bathroom inside a now open shopping center, Thom makes his escape. As he roars off down the highway, his glee turns to regret. He returns to find Claire sitting outside the store, trying to pretend she wasn’t hurt and freaked out he’d left. He pretends he was just scouting for food and in that moment, their alliance is sealed.
Approach to the Innermost Cave (Approaching the Dark Moment)
The Claire and Thom hijinks reach hilarity peak. Stealing food from a continental breakfast bar, scamming fares at the airport. These scenes alone are worth the price of admission.
Thom makes a clandestine nighttime detour to Boulder, CO to “borrow” money from his parents as Claire sleeps, but has to reveal himself when Claire wakes up and goes looking for him at the house. Over a tense family dinner, Claire learns that Thom has been lying about his real name to her, and lying about what he does for a living to his parents, who are a little horrified to find out he’s driving a cab. “They just want you to be happy,” Claire tells Thom as they leave the house. “Because they are so unhappy.” As Thom ponders this bit of insight, Claire offers to drive.
In a follow-through of the earlier incident where Thom falls asleep and almost drives them off the road, they both fall asleep and Claire does drive them off the road. They wake up to find themselves in the middle of nowhere–in the desert. To make matters worse, the cab now won’t start.
They trek to find the road again and they are royally pissed with each other now. She calls him a pathological liar, he accuses her of running away from her problems. The sun goes down, and they are forced to call a truce and spoon to keep warm enough to sleep on the desert floor.
When Claire wakes, she sees a truck going by in the distance: the highway! It is when they get the cab fixed that Claire learns Thom is not licensed and does not work for an actual cab company. She confronts him to come clean about everything and Thom spills all his ugly, vulnerable truths, including the fact that he had seen the highway earlier but hadn’t woken her up because he wanted to sleep in with her. (Awww!)
The second ordeal occurs when they stop in Las Vegas to visit Claire’s mom and Claire finds out that she is way too late: her dad has already died.
Thom comforts Claire in the front seat of his cab and they almost kiss. (Eeee!)
The Road Back (Return)
Claire, Thom, and her Claire’s mother continue to California to meet up with the rest of the family–Claire’s half-sister and her husband—and attend the services. Who should show up but Claire’s husband. He admits to her that he basically was having an emotional affair and was in the process of breaking it off when Claire walked in on them. Claire is not sure if she’s ready to forgive him.
The Resurrection (Climax)
At the small service on the beach to spread their father’s ashes, Claire’s half-sister says that people don’t have to take their regrets to their grave like their dad did. Claire’s expression shows that she is taking this advice to heart.
As everyone is preparing to go back to their various homes, Claire’s husband notices how the interior of Thom’s cab is decorated and gives him crap about it, not realizing it was his own wife who decorated it. Thom covers for Claire and Claire starts to realize that the problems in her marriage run deeper than the almost-affair.
Thom tells Claire he wishes she could stay. She says she can’t.
On the cab drive to the airport with her husband, as both her husband and the cab driver talk on their cell phones and she realizes how alone she is, she calls her mother on an impulse to catch Thom and talk to him one more time. But Thom is already gone.
Return with the Elixir (Permanence of the Change)
Claire has her own apartment that she has decorated to suit herself. She is divorced from her husband. She is planning a vacation with her half-sister. Then she receives something in the mail. It is a coffee table book of photos from a journey across the country, published by none other than Thom. Inside is a postcard from Big Sur with a hand written note. Claire hops in a car on her own and goes to find him. When he sees her standing outside his little beach side house, he smiles and goes to get her.
That’s it for the Hero’s Journey breakdown in this quintessential romantic comedy road trip flick. We are now getting pretty close to NaNoWriMo time, but I hope to get in one more road trip movie before I disappear into the daily word count abyss.