I suspect that a lot of viewers will think of their family as they watch Liz Sargent’s considerate and compelling Live Action Short contender, Take Me Home. It feels like Sargent opened up her chest and let us see her beating heart, but everyone can take away something about sibling relations and returning home. Even though your personal circumstances don’t totally align with these characters doesn’t mean you won’t see yourself. With writing and performances this honest, it might make you reach for the phone to call a loved one.
Sargent and I spoke a lot about family at the top of our conversation. I unloaded my family history and told her about being adopted as a baby along with my biological brother. Take Me Home leads with its heart. Starring Sargent’s younger sister, Anna, the film confronts a bond between two sisters separated by distance and age. When Anna calls her older sister, Emily, out of concern over their mother’s health, Emily returns home to take care of family business. Anna is living with a Cognitive Disability, and there are unspoken worries as to if she is ready to live on her own.
“It was vulnerable from moment one,” Sargent says. “My parents were so excited to offer me the home, and they felt so included to see a film set. I was allowed to take it over, and they gave me space. The day before we shot, I had a panic attack when I realized that I was letting strangers into this home to see all of the details that I understand and appreciate whether I agree with them or not. People might come in with judgements, and I got very protective of it all. I write from very personal experiences like these big emotional moments that I might not be able to talk about with my family. I work it out in the script. In that way, I can control it all, but doing the shoot in their home felt totally different. Seeing them interact with Anne, something lit up inside me, and I made sure they weren’t too careful with her. She’s a professional in there too. That aspect was complicated.
Writing this story is something that I have always been trying to work out. My background is that my parents had four biological kids and then adopted seven. Six of us are Korean and there are several with disabilities. This is how I grew up, and only as an adult have I been realizing how abnormal. It’s something that I am still working out and make sense of those moments. Anna is someone that I have always been drawn to. She’s ten years younger than me, and I have always been protective of her.”
Jeena Yi’s Emily is living in New York City when Anna calls her back. I originally wondered if there was something that happened in their family to drive her away, but Sargent reminded me that sometimes families grow apart. Maybe a son or daughter attends college out of state and loves that city so much that they become established there.
“I chose Jeena because I heard her do a monologue a few years ago, and it was so honest that I remembered it very well,” she says. “I met her when I was doing wardrobe work in the theater, and she is such a lovely, respectful, and smart person. She’s just game. I wanted her in the room for her vulnerability to see this life. I think a lot of it was very intuitive for her.
We had some talk about the backstory, but it’s so much about my history. It’s also universal. The world has changed and a lot of people are spread out. We no longer take care of our parents as they age, so I think everyone is struggling with how they care for their family while maintaining their independence. I don’t think this film went into how complicated it is to be a sibling to someone with a disability and the love and anger that comes along with it. The respect and sadness. My sister, Molly, was on set since we are co-guardians of Anna and she is handling the educational direction. She’s a high school principal and a great cheerleader, but we are polar opposites. The one big note that I gave Jeena was, “Less Molly, more me” and then it shifted.”
One of the most striking moments is a silent one when we cut to Anna looking at herself in a mirror hanging on the hallway wall. Is she looking at herself in a different way? Is she psyching herself up for what is going on around her? Emily, trying to keep everything movie, steps into the shot and quietly removes the frame from the wall. It’s not a mean or cruel moment, but it speaks so much about how this younger sister is viewing herself in a new way.
“I was lucky that that shot held a lot of storytelling in it,” Sargent says. “It’s a huge moment moment for Anna and Anna’s life, because that held such control for her whole life. She is seeing herself in a new way and her life in a new way, and Emily is just trying to deal with the weight that has been put on her. The world can move too fast and Anna gets lost in that mess a lot. What is her choice? What is her agency?”
As Emily and Anna pack up their childhood home, a key scene comes with Anna is upset over her things being moved. She tears boxes open and tells her sister, ‘Get out of here. I don’t like you–let go. I’m sick of you.’ There is nothing more brutal than hearing the simplicity of the words, ‘I don’t like you,’ especially from a loving sister. The ending of Sargent’s film is filled with such possibility. We all reach the point in our lives when no one in our family lives in our childhood home. “I used to live there,” is something we all say whether it’s to ourselves or out loud. Anna deserves to have a storied history in a community that values what she can give back.
“That day [and that scene] was hard, and the script changed quite a bit since we couldn’t control the action. I wanted Anna to lead everything, because if she’s not good, the movie isn’t good. I think that line came out out of improv. It just wasn’t there–the tension was evading us. I hid some of her stuff in a box and when she opened it, she’s having the emotional experience with it and then remembering that someone else moved it from her room. Then I didn’t know where it would go. I told her things like to not let Emily walk away with it and then I would tell her to say certain things. That is something she said on her own. It was very raw, and she was playing and following the ideas that we were throwing out. “I don’t like you” is so powerful, because there is something about disabled people on screen always being portrayed as nice or careful. But they could also not like you. Don’t assume that they are just so loving or weak in some way–she has agency to call out shit. Emily is not the hero–she’s not the best person ever. At one point, Anna walked off set, and her microphone was still on, and I could hear her chatting with the crew after playing with this intense moment. Anna really feels those moments, but it’s not damaging to her.
The ending was so hard, because I didn’t want it to be that Emily has to look after Anna. It’s also about what Anna wants, and, at the same time, she wants her familiar surroundings with her. I don’t think it’s a sibling’s responsibility or a parent’s responsibility–I think it’s the world’s responsibility. What at is available to have that independence? I wanted it hanging there, because I don’t think there’s a clear solution in this world right now for people like Anna that’s affordable and where she can live her best life and give back to her community.”