Between Davie, Florida and Valencia, California, there’s a major difference in the Buca di Beppo Italian restaurants each has, based on the wait times and the locations of each. Each establishment has a table in their kitchen that must be reserved ahead of time. In Davie, this table was so popular that it personally had to be reserved months ahead of time, I think for my sister’s birthday. In Valencia, the restaurant and fast food choices are so thickly stacked, that to walk into that location and ask for the table in the kitchen is no problem. One night, my family and I were seated there, five minutes after we came in.
But writer/director/actor Seth Landau, in his fictionalized rant about chain restaurants and a few other types of consumerism that America holds dear, makes a potent point about Buca di Beppo that I didn’t realize until he brings it up when his Arizona Tribune reporter, Zach Turk, walks through Sit-a You Down, Stuff-a Your Face. As soon as you walk in, if you want (though based on how many people walk through those kitchens, there doesn’t seem to be much of a choice), the hostess walks you through the restaurant, steering you through the kitchen so you can gawk at the people sitting at that “prized” table as if they were a new zoo exhibit that had never been seen before the night you’re there. The kitchen isn’t anything special to me there, though with my sister’s desire to be a chef one day, it’s remarkable watching her take it all in. There have been times, however, where I’ve wanted to stuff at least two pasta shells in my mouth and slowly let it out as another humanoid party passed by the table. Reactions like that would be priceless.
As he and his obnoxious girlfriend Connie (Keri Marrone) are seated, Zach wonders aloud why they couldn’t have just walked the shorter way to get to the table and the waitress comments that that’s how they do it. Indeed. Each restaurant chain wants to make you think that being in their clutches is an experience you’ve never had. But really, photos on the men’s bathroom walls of Sophia Loren and little kids and statues peeing? If I hadn’t seen those pictures when I walked in, I wouldn’t have been sure why I was in there in the first place. Landau’s got it down perfectly as he also lampoons various stereotypes, dumb cowboy jokes, penis surgery, tree huggers, overbearing women, and waiters who are forced to tailor themselves to the restaurant they work in, all in the name of Zach changing the front page of the Tribune one day to print his column on why chain restaurants should be eliminated, for lack of quality, lack of good food at such a low price, and just the gaudiness of the entire idea of going to a place that’s more brightly lit than your own home.
Zach targets his grandfather, Irving (Ken Kolb, who solves the mystery of what Dennis Farina and Joe Pesci would look like if they were one person) in the piece, blasting his Chief Beef corporation for exacerbating the culinary breakdown of the nation, and granddad isn’t pleased with this slight, though it doesn’t seem like it would matter too much to him so long as he has his young wife Iris (Brooke Bagnato) with him always, to the extent that Zach begrudgingly calls her “grandma” on the phone. For these giants of the business in the United States and probably throughout the world, they look like they’ve got money stashed in as many orifices as they can find, and that’s especially true at the CEO retreat that finds these men outraged at the article, though comically because in real life, a few of them look like fools anyway, even with all the spin on top.
This is Landau’s first feature film, after his short film, “A.P.U.: Art, Pot and Underwear” and when he gets into a mode where he has something to say through any of his actors, through any of the situations, his words and his actors are so focused that there’s almost no holes in the laughter. Connie looks ridiculous in how overbearing she is toward Zach, the cigarette CEO whom Irving plays golf with is appropriately uncaring toward what happens to the populations that buy his cigarettes, and Landau gets better and better at the Unexpected, Jarring Moment in a film, especially when the hostess at Ba Ba Barbecue is on the phone with tech support.
But “Take Out” is under an hour and a half and there are many, many moments—many hours it sometimes feels like—where the jokes are taken too leisurely. There’s enough of Connie to spill right into another movie and even when he’s been beaten down by her enough (but is he really so verbally beaten senseless by her that he doesn’t realize what he should do by the second time they go out in the film?), he still goes to her house, giving us yet another scene with her and worse still, two of her friends who trade tsking noises as she and he go into the bedroom to talk. This guy practically begs to be single while one of the other reporters typically wants him and readily agrees to do for him what he asks, in one scene making animal noises as a distraction to extract the associate editor from her office so he can put his fateful column on the front page. There’s energy in that, and Yeni Alvarez is that energy. Perhaps Landau believed that too much of her would have made his work too cartoonish, but once you get more than an earful of Connie, you’ll already be gripping the seat and not in suspense.
Landau knows what he does, and even as Connie charges on, it’s easy to sense it merely being a stepping stone toward improvements in future films. His dogged approach towards making audiences pay attention to what’s going on is endearing and there is a well-placed sense of fun already afoot here, so much so that his next one practically begs to be released quickly, for the benefit of all who might be curious. He’s got it good.