Taking Off | Milos Forman | USA | 1971 | 93 min
I loved Milos Forman after watching his early Czech Films, Loves of a Blonde (1965) and The Fireman’s Ball (1967). When I realized that he also directed One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984), my mind was blown. I couldn’t help but wonder how he went from mastering the simplicity and subtle storytelling of his early films, which were made on a small budget and showcases the normal aspects of everyday people, to conveying plots as complex as Amadeus. Taking Off, his first American film, lets you see that transition. This film encompasses ordinary people, and lots of them, but follows a storyline riddled with ridiculous events that seem to unfold naturally.
The film starts with Jeannie (Linnea Heacock) running away to audition for a singing competition in the city. There she is amongst hundreds of similar-aged girls, all waiting to try out for something that is never explained. At home her parents, Lynn and Larry (Lynn Carlin, Buck Henry), search for her, first in her room and then half-heartedly outside of the house. After worrying for 2 weeks, the parents accept their childless state and start focusing on themselves. They join a support group for parents of refuge kids, and party with the other members. Their child runs away, and they find their youth.
The story is not what makes this film so great; the brilliance is in how the story is told. The timing is key and Forman seems to have figured out exactly where to enter scenes, when to exit them and how to cut between two spaces and simultaneous actions. When Jeannie leaves for the audition, we see her meekly finding her way through people of all shapes and forms. While each performs one by one, exhibiting a huge range of talent, Forman skillfully captures and focuses on the reactions of the crowds in order to develop the atmosphere. This is juxtaposed with her parents ignorant brainstorm of where she might be, and what she might be doing.
Jeannie’s parents are naive and helpless, but you can’t help but love them and their friends, Tony (Tony Harvey) and Margot (Georgia Engel). Larry and Tony end up getting wasted at a bar, while Lynn and Margot start gossiping about their sex lives. Jeannie has left to seemingly force herself to become an adult, and her parents act as if they were teenagers. Already the plot is sharp and ridiculous, and this is only the beginning.
Larry and Lynn become more experimental and laid-back in Jeannie’s absence. They meet other couples, drink more than they’re used to, and end up going to a show where Tina and Ike Turner are performing. At a support group meeting, which are more like giant parties, these older adults, all decked out in their fancy attire, pass around joints and smoke pot for the first time in an attempt to understand their runaway children.
If you can’t tell, I really enjoyed this movie—so much so that I am going to try and convince my parents to go see it at the Cinematheque on Easter. I really enjoyed Lynn Carlin and wish she were in more films. Her actions were so perfect, and appropriate for her character and situation. She is set up as a sheltered suburban housewife, and she approaches every new thing that comes along with curiosity and giddiness. The story was constantly entertaining without a single dull point in the film’s entirety. And I’m not sure if everyone else loves Tina Turner as much as I do, but I find her dancing to be one of the most memorizing spectacles ever.
Every once in a while I will become obsessed with a director and go on a mission to watch every single one of their films. I did this with Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino when I was young; I went through all of Pedro Almodovar’s films last year. It took a month to go through all of David Lean’s and now I am onto Milos Forman. I am continuously amazed by the wit of his films. The humor always catches me off-guard, and Taking Off is no exception.