So, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but people love movies about the ‘80s. Or at least, Hollywood thinks they do, because they keep churning them out. Following a four-year stint on the shelf, Take Me Home Tonight is the latest comedy to reflect on this ever-popular cinematic decade.
One can’t say for sure why the film industry keeps going back to the well when it comes to‘80s movies, but it probably has something to do with the fact that the decade is such a time of exaggeration. Everything is bigger, flashier and more absurd than it is now. Hell, more absurd than in any decade. Or at least that’s what Hollywood would lead you to believe. It wouldn’t be hard too walk out of a movie like Hot Tub Time Machine or Take Me Home Tonight and say, “There’s no way one time period could be so ridiculous.” Well, that’s probably true, but when it comes to the ‘80s, the mythology has been so built up that most films (or at least most comedies) set in the decade have to be at least a little ridiculous.
Take Me Home Tonight follows a familiar premise. Nerdy twenty-something (Topher Grace) gets another chance to impress the girl he loved in high school (Teresa Palmer), while his crazy best friend (Dan Fogler) and platonic gal pal (Anna Faris) come along for the ride. Here, the nerd in question is Matt Franklin, an MIT graduate who works at Suncoast Video while trying to figure out what to do with his life. When Tori Frederking, his long lost love of school days past, moves back into town, Franklin vows that he’s finally going to do something about his feelings for her. Meanwhile, his best friend Barry gets fired from his job, and his sister Wendy tries to decide whether to get serious with her long-term boyfriend or pursue a graduate degree in England. And the whole movie takes place in a bubble, with everything occurring over the course of a night at an epic high school reunion party.
The cast is solid, even if their characters don’t break any molds. Grace is likeable as always (even though it’s pretty hard to believe that this supposed MIT genius has ended up such a loser), and Fogler, although a bit annoying at times, will probably make you laugh out loud in at least a few scenes over the course of the film. Together, they give Matt and Barry some decent chemistry. Palmer is charming albeit a little boring at the beautiful and intelligent Tori, but to be fair, she’s playing a pretty thankless role, that of the “unattainable girlfriend.” The real shame here is that the film totally wastes Faris’ comedic chops, relegating her to the role of fourth banana. Look out for her now-husband, the hilarious Chris Pratt of Parks and Recreation, playing the role of Wendy’s dimwitted boyfriend, Kyle. In fact, look out for everybody in the cast. There are a few great comic talents (Demetri Martin, Michael Ian Black) and a few actors thrown in as amusing ‘80s references (hey kids, it’s Michael Biehn!)
Actors aside, the film does a fairly good job of downplaying the “Look how much things have changed!” aspect of most comedies set in the ‘80s; the “What the hell is a CD?” scene is nowhere to be found. The movie certainly feels a little bit influenced by John Hughes, but it’s ultimately closer to something like The Wedding Singer. And therein lies the rub; Topher Grace, who also has a story credit on the film, has said that he hopes the movie comes off as a sort of ‘80s Dazed and Confused, i.e. a film that feels of the time period, even though it was not made in the time period. However, at the end of the day, Take Me Home Tonight just isn’t as poetic as Dazed and Confused. Sure, it has moments that are very funny, but ultimately, the comparisons to Hot Tub Time Machine and The Wedding Singer are more apt; it’s a standard comedy, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a shame because there are moments in Take Me Home Tonight where it feels like the film was aiming to be something more. Sorry Topher, but Greg Mottola beat you to the whole Dazed and Confused in the ‘80s thing with 2009’s stellar Adventureland.
Although, to readdress to a point brought up earlier, technically Take Me Home Tonight was completed before Adventureland. Supposedly, one of the reasons it collected dust so long was the movie’s gratuitous use of cocaine. The fact that Take Me Home Tonight was willing to put graphic substance abuse in the forefront like this is actually one of its strong suits. It’s not so much that one should walk away from the film going, “Man, doing coke looks fun!” as much as it is that the film deserves some respect for being a mainstream comedy that has the guts to say, “Listen, it was the ‘80s, lots of people were on the nose candy.” Another strength of the film is it’s fantastic soundtrack, although to be fair, what ‘80s comedy doesn’t have a fantastic soundtrack? There’s not really any new ground being covered here, and most of the song choices aren’t too surprising (“Hungry Like The Wolf,” “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” “Come On Eileen,” etc.,) but the guilty pleasure side of your musical tastes will thank you.
In the end, despite being pretty funny, somewhat bold, and having a totally radical soundtrack, Take Me Home Tonight still falls into the trap that most ‘80s comedies succumb to. Not even the ‘80s were this ‘80s.