Bearing evidence of an outsider's inquisitive eyes, Czech director Milos Forman's first American feature took an even-handed, humorous look at the parents of the Me Generation. Though the title ostensibly refers to the runaway teen plot that opens the film, its more accurate enactment comes much later when, after getting high at an SPFC (Society for the Parents of Fugitive Children) meeting, the home-again, gone-again girl's parents play (and lose, horribly) a game of strip poker with another child-searching married couple (the husband of which is played by Paul Benedict, a tall, strong-jawed man whom observant viewers will remember as the guy who showed up in Blaine, Missouri instead of Mort Guffman near the end of Waiting for Guffman).
If the daughter's (Linnea Heacock) stoic desertions and an inter-cut reel of folk music concert auditions establish the post-60s hippie-beat subcultural setting, most of that scene is gleaned at one remove, from the perspective of the bewildered parents (Lynn Carlin, Buck Henry). In an agile balance of middle-class suburbanite parody (think Woody Allen in Westchester) and earnest mid-life crisis and parental distress, Forman (who subsequently blended comedy and drama so nicely in Amadeus, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The People vs. Larry Flynt) humanizes the distraught adults, all the while mining their idiosyncrasies for laughs.
Addressing issues for youth and parents of the time, Taking Off is inseparable from its historical context, an eloquent time capsule for the movies and larger cultural trends on the threshold between the 60s and 70s. After the youth audience-tapping successes of Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider, faltering studios saw the marketing potential in giving young, highly film-literate directors (Coppolla, Lucas and Spielberg among them) small budgets and total artistic license. As such, Taking Off is a market-conscious product, saturated with the music, lingo and recreational drug use of the youth movements, but seeing the lot from an outsider's (we future movie-goers, parents, foreigners, studio execs, etc.) perspective.
Opens June 18 at MoMA