There is a type of humor called Theatre of the Absurd that take a theme to such ridiculous extremes the audience is barely aware that reality still exists. Although most scholarly dissertations would place the origins in the fifties techniques similar to this go back to Medieval time when social commentary that might very well be lethal to express was surrounded in a veneer of comedy so preposterous the objects of the satire might not even be aware they were lampooned before the people they literally lorded over. By taking the literary technique of reductio ad absurdum beyond any normal limits the humorist must tread the exceptionally fine line between making your point and pure foolishness. One recent example that demonstrates how this brand of comedy should be executed is ‘Take Out’ a movie made in 2005 by the imaginative filmmaker, Seth Landau. It is not unusual for me to watch a film I’m reviewing several times before committing my observations to a consideration like this. In this particular instance I felt compelled to a number of viewings not because the movie was obtuse or convoluted it was because I was so impressed by the almost surrealistic use of comedy to examine a topic that has made headlines and stirred up a notable amount of controversy.
We are a society that is extremely fast paced. Many have to rush between several jobs just to keep up with our financial responsibilities or, for others, the day doesn’t seem long enough to fit all our activities in. as a result many people rely on fast food to get through the day. In most cases these quickly served meals are supplied by a large, corporate driven chain. The controversy that has risen concerns the health risks induced by excessive reliance on this type of food. One documentarian went so far as to live exclusively on one chain’s products for a month resulting in a serious degradation of his health. Mr. Landau chose to approach this extremely serious issue, a certifiable matter of public health in a vastly different fashion. He crafted a film that superficially is insane but just under that surface is directly on point with laser like precision.
In traditional independent film fashion Mr. Landau takes on the lead role as Zack Turk, a reporter for a small newspaper in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is normally on the street beat, looking for stories of serious impact. Because the usual reporter who covers as restaurant critic is having penile surgery the owner of the paper, Tex Whitmire (Judd Omen), switches Zack to that assignment, an order that the young reporter reluctantly follows. The character of Tex is one of the first indication that the filmmaker is about to push his audience down a rabbit hole leaving the real world in the rear view mirror. Tex borders on a caricature of the old time western trope. He is loud, obnoxious and a misogynist. There is no touchstone to allow the audience to relate to this character; he is over the top to help set the tone that is to follow. Zack’s first assignment is a chain restaurant accompanied by his over baring girlfriend, Connie (Keri Marrone). Her dialogue entirely consists of complaints and barbs aimed at Zack. Their experience at the establishment is nothing short of horrific. Despite the fact that the place is nearly empty they are given a beeper and told the wait will be thirty minutes. After Zack orders a soft drink, requiring much in the way of frustration over the off brands as the only options, Connie places a rather large alcoholic request. Another half hour goes by before their meal order is taken and yet another 30 minutes before the ice cold, inedible ‘food’ arrives. Zack, as a reporter of integrity writes an accurate review which is summarily rejected. The reason is simple; they advertise in the paper. Order to rewrite in in an appropriate favorable light, Zack contrives to substitute the real review moments before the paper goes to print. Zacks’s other assignments included some equally awful chain restaurants and family style place where new customers are taken through the kitchen in a demonstration of how everything was done family style. Included is the prized table, stuck in a corner, which requires making reservation months in advance. The table is practically in pitch blackness with the family style menu is mounted on the wall and too dark to read.
Making his expose of substandard chain restaurants is especially on point since his grandfather; Irving (Ken Kolb) is the owner of Chief Beef. This chain’s logo is a stylized and obscenely politically incorrect Indian face with a feather in his hair. Irving is a prominent member of an elite group of rich old white men. The group consists of CEOs that proudly run companies that kill people; guns, alcohol and tobacco among their best members. Grandpa is outraged when Zack’s article is picked up off the wire services and reprinted in a major, national newspaper. This creates a media storm resulting in a backlash amount the patrons. Soon people are opting for family owned establishments or fixing their own meals. The worse possible scenario for Irving and his cohorts; people know fast food chains are selling poison to their clueless customers. The strangeness is piled on fast and deep. Zack’s grandmother, Iris (Brooke Bagnato), is a much younger trophy wife. At the CEO retreat the opening speaker glibly muses that the purpose of these meetings is for drinking and whoring on the stock holder’s expense. The podium is lined with money forming a kind of altar to greed.
Seth Landau is the epitome of why independent film is so incredibly crucial to maintaining the forward momentum of cinema as a means of artistic expression. Sadly no mainstream studio would remotely consider producing this film even though the message at its core is important to us as a society. For anyone that is following the proposed legal restrictions on fast food chains can verify it is very similar to the assault against big tobacco a few years ago. It was met with resistance on two fronts, the people want it and the congress receive large and steadily provide contributions. The nature of this movie perfectly sidesteps any potential entanglement with the serious controversy that the theme attracts. The humor is not only sublimely absurd it is wickedly dark to its core. In Landau’s previous film, ‘Brian Loves You’ concurring cults his directorial style employed a lot of footage from security cameras. In a brilliantly executed variation of this Mr. Landau infuses the piece with a distinctly rough feel, almost as if it was shot is a type of cinema verite technique. This ideally establishes a docudramatic feel that reinforces the investigative journalism motif. When juxtaposed with a pataphysical influence clearly evident. Many may dismiss this work as surreal foolishness as they await the reappearance of the illusive McRib. Others will put in the thought required to see beyond the façade to appreciate an exceptional work. I fir one can’t wait for his next opus.in the mean time Mr. Landau has posted the film online; get it and enjoy.