Film Reviews

Review: From SXSW to Netflix, Take Care & The Death of the Mid Budget Movie

Take Care is a 2014 rom-com about a woman (Popular‘s Leslie Bibb) who guilts her ex-boyfriend (The Newsroom’s Thomas Sadoski) into taking care of her as she recovers from car crash-related injuries. He feels obligated since she spent a year helping him get through cancer at which point he dumped her. It is the debut feature for writer-director Liz Tuccillo, a former Sex and the City writer best known as the co-author of He’s Just Not That Into You. It completely slipped under my radar until Netflix decided that because I watched Josh Radnor’s rom-com Liberal Arts I might also like Take Care along with several other low-profile comedies, most of them anchored by TV actors, like Community’s Alison Brie in Save the Date, Reaper’s Tyler Labine in Best Man Down and The Office’s Jenna Fischer in The Giant Mechanical Man.  I sometimes wonder where all of these films come from, so many of them with fairly basic movie posters, looking every-so indie comedy. So, this is the story of how Take Care ended up on Netflix, and whether or not it’s worth your time.

Two or three decades ago, something like Take Care or any of the other aforementioned comedies would have likely been made within the studio system for as much as $30 million, qualifying as a mid budget release, which is generally thought to be anything that costs between $20m and $80m to make. However, as Steven Soderbergh (Sex Lies, and Videotapes, Traffic, Oceans 11, Magic Mike) made perfectly clear in his keynote address at the 2013 San Francisco International Film Festival the mid budget studio film is dead.  More movies are coming out now than ever before (677 in 2013 versus 455 in 2003), but more and more of those are micro-budget independents (100% increase from ’03 to ’13) and fewer and fewer are studio films (28% decrease across the same time span). That would maybe be a good thing, but studio films have gone from a 69% market share to 76% meaning fewer studio movies are taking up more of the market while twice as many independent films are left fighting for what’s left.

As a result, the film industry has become increasingly polarized between big budget tentpoles based on pre-existing intellectual properties (YA novels, comic books, Disney princesses) and micro-budget indies. 2015 has already provided multiple mid budget bombs (Mortdecai, Blackhat, Chappie,The Gunman and Run All Night), and the similarly-budgeted Fifty Shades of Grey is more of an argument for the power of pre-existing properties.  The industry probably just lost one of its champions for mid budget content now that Benaroya Pictures, previously responsible for Lawless, The Paperboy and Kill Your Darlings, shut down production on two separate films despite the involvement of recognizable talent like Robert De Niro, Bruce Willis, and Robert Pattinson.  That’s never a good sign.  Elsewhere, a Chinese backer has partnered with an upstart US studio named STX to spend nearly $3 billion across the next three years to primarily produce mid budget films, but Hollywood insiders are mostly crying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Take Care Guy
Thomas Sadoski attempting to break the news to his current girlfriend

Where does all of this leave something like Take Care? In another era, this could finally be Leslie Bibb’s breakthrough comedy. She’s been on TV shows (Popular, CGB, About a Boy), played Will Ferrell’s fickle wife in Talladega Nights, and memorably screwed Tony Stark in the first Iron Man. But she’s never had a While You Were Sleeping like Sandra Bullock, the hit rom-com that launched her post-Speed career. The studios aren’t interested in making that kind of movie anymore. As Selma’s black female director Ava DuVernay put it, “The bottom line is that it is not their current business model. So, do you not do it? Do you not make your film? What do you? You find another model. You find another way to do it. If you’re waiting around for someone else to change their mind in order for you to speak your mind you’re going to be waiting a long time.”

Bibb and Liz Tuccillo found another way, partnering as producers on Take Care and collaborating from casting through editing and promotion. They filmed over 19 days in New York, working with a mostly female crew. The actual story idea came from Tuccillo, drawing inspiration from a friend’s experience recovering from rotator cuff surgery, another friend’s story about being in a car accident, and a boyfriend who had cancer many years before they were together. She also drew from her years working in the Sex and the City writer’s room, where the naturally cramped quarters fostered camaraderie as well as conflict. As such, Take Care often limits its setting to the modest New York walk-up apartment-turned-temporary prison for Bibb’s Frannie as she recovers from a broken arm and leg.

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Leslie Bibb in the apartment, an ideal setting for a film with very little money

The setting is utilized for immediate comedy in the opening scene in which Frannie’s sister (Nadia Dajani) and friend (Marin Ireland) escort her home from the hospital and immediately realize they have no idea how they’ll get her up the stairs and in her apartment. However, it also works to enhance the drama once Sadoski’s Devon comes along to take care of Frannie.

This is the fork in the road moment in the film where it either wins you over or loses you because Frannie does actually have other options, such as relying on flaky friends or temporarily moving in with her sister, brother-in-law, and young nieces and nephews in New Jersey.  Moreover, it’s supposed to be a somewhat empowering idea that Frannie would convince Devon that he owes it to her after all she sacrificed to be there for him in his time of need because she loved him. I ultimately went along with it, recognizing it as a contrived scenario but also one which inspires “What would you do in that situation?” reflections. It does effectively force the ex-lovers to actually talk through their emotions and come to a better understanding of why they broke up. Bibb and Sadoski have a natural, enjoyable chemistry together, with Bibb going mostly makeup free throughout and calling upon her inner-goofiness to sell most of the comedy.

In a different era, this story would likely be told beginning with a depiction of the car wreck, probably following Frannie as a busy gal of the city, bustling from here to there, all set to some pop song offering ironic commentary. Her sister would be a bitch who despises Devon.  For his part, Devon would be seen at his job, likely with a comic relief best friend offering up plenty of sex-related one-liners about being forced to act as your ex-girlfriend’s slave while keeping it a secret from the hot, but crazy new girlfriend. Frannie would absolutely have a sassy gay friend, and there would be some farcical scene involving several people simultaneously entering and exiting Frannie’s apartment as she comically attempts to move despite her injuries.

Actually, sometimes to its detriment,Take Care has several of those things. Frannie does indeed have a sassy gay friend, but sparingly. Devon does have a new girlfriend who is probably not right for him, but Nurse Betty’s Betty Gilpin makes her likable. The movie acknowledges that Betty reacts as a normal person would to the bizarre scenario of her boyfriend taking care of his ex, making her related insecurity understandable. And the two big comedy set pieces do involve people entering and exiting the apartment as an immobilized Frannie attempts to muster a response. But it’s just so New York indie film of them to minimize the rom-com goofiness and mostly give us two people hanging out in an apartment together, watching and joking about Law & Order and growing increasingly comfortable enough to broach big topics like cancer.

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Sadoski and Bibb. We do see her kitchen from time to time.

That does present obvious limitations.  Take Care might make for a better play than film as nothing about it seems particularly cinematic. Plus, it doesn’t feel like it completely earns what ultimately becomes of Frannie and Devon.

It’s for all of those reasons that when Take Care premiered at SXSW in early 2014 it received middling-to-bad reviews. THR concluded, “Take Care features some amusing moments, to be sure. But we’re never invested in its characters’ fates, and its surfeit of sitcom-style cliches makes it seem more suitable for the small screen.” That’s how you go from premiering at a film festival to waiting 5 months to get a distribution deal. New York-based indie distributor One Film Entertainment finally picked them up in August 2014, joining the company’s then-recent slate of acquisitions like Two Night Stand, starring Miles Teller and Analeigh Tipton; the Ryan Phillippe thriller Catch Hell and the dark Katie Holmes comedy Miss Meadows. All of those films ended up playing in just a handful of theaters, 5 in the case of Two Night Stand. Take Care made it into theaters and onto VOD in December. By April 2015, it’s on Netflix and currently playing in regular rotation on Showtime.

Liz Tuccillo has already moved on, optioning her novel How to Be Single to New Line Cinema where it’s being written and directed by other people.  The cast currently includes Dakota Johnson, Alison Brie, Lily Collins, Dan Stevens, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, and Daman Wayans, Jr.  Since Take Care, Leslie Bibb has completed one movie (Don Verdean) and appeared on About a Boy and The Odd Couple. As of late last year, she was contemplating following Reese Witherspoon’s example and pursuing a producing career to generate more of the types of roles she’d like to play as well as ones she’d simply like to watch, “I like taking somebody’s idea, or story, or fantasy about what they want to do and helping make that a reality. That’s a cool thing for me.”

And that’s how Take Care went from being an idea a New York writer had to a film Netflix told me I might like. Part of the reason I highlighted its production history rather than merely write a traditional review is to make more sense of how some of these movies end up on Netflix. However, it’s also to battle the argument there are no good romantic comedies out there anymore or whatever other genre of film Hollywood studios now ignores. There are tons of them! They’re just not really making it into theaters, and they’re being made for far cheaper. Take Care is not perfect, and much of my enjoyment of it is honestly tied to how much I seem to enjoy Leslie Bibb in anything she does.  However, if movies you watch on Netflix are graded on a curve then Take Care definitely passes the “Is it worth streaming for free?” test.

Second Opinions

TheDissolve:Take Care could have been great, if only it were any good at all. A film about an injured young woman who convinces her ex-boyfriend to be her primary caregiver had every prognosis to emerge as a romantic comedy for the age of Obamacare, something to combine the vulnerability of the body with the twinned messiness of recovery and relationships. But the movie is dreadful, filled with painfully broad humor, grating performances, and acidly rendered characters.”

IndieWire: “Perhaps unsurprising, given Tuccillo’s roots on the small screen, that ‘Take Care’ feels like it would be more at home if it skipped theaters entirely. It would make more sense as a TV movie or a direct-to-iTunes offering. It’s not bad, but it’s not worth leaving your house for—even if you have use of all your limbs.”

11 comments

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