Film Review – Take Me Home Tonight
As the old saying goes, “What once was old is new again.” So it has become for 80s nostalgia, which, to me, seems to be an ongoing nostalgia. One that reaches back to 1998, when Adam Sandler reintroduced the 80s to the world with The Wedding Singer. Presented as a parody, The Wedding Singer was more of a time-capsule, embracing the entire generation as whole, pulling references from moments and ideas that had not even happened in the film’s own time frame. The TV show That 70s Show, which started the same year The Wedding Singer was released, approached its nostalgia in a similar fashion, encapsulating its pop-culture references from throughout the entire decade. It seems, though, that since The Wedding Singer that nostalgic feeling for the 80s has yet to dissipate. The debate on whether or not this is a good thing is a topic for another article.
In Take Me Home Tonight, the nostalgia factor is less emphasized on the decade as a whole and more on the specific moment in time the movie takes place. According to actor Topher Grace, who plays the film’s lead, Eric Forma… I mean, Matt Franklin, the intention of the movie was to make it feel it was made in the 80s and not a film parodying the 80s from a distance. As Grace puts it, the film was then made with the conventions of an 80s teen/twenty-something comedy in mind. Its purpose is to rely on those conventions as nostalgia for a plot device; considering this, the details of the plot then work to the film’s advantage.
The story focuses on Matt Franklin (Grace), who’s a recent MIT graduate with no desire to pursue the Engineering career he received a degree for. Instead, Matt works at a Suncoast video store in the infamous Sherman Oaks Galleria mall in Los Angeles, where he’s biding his time until he decides what he wants to do. In the meantime he pines aimlessly for his childhood crush, Tori Frederking (played by Teresa Palmer), who he shared a brief moment with when they were forced into a closet at a party for a “seven minutes in heaven make-out session.” The situation was a bust due to Matt’s chickening out, but his reputation was saved by Tori’s lying for him. Since then she’s been his dream girl. This is all told to us in the film’s opening dialogue, setting up the crux of not just this film, but the genre of films it’s relying upon.
In the opening moments of Cameron Crowe’s 1989 film Say Anything, the film’s lead, Lloyd Dobler (played by John Cusack), tells a very similar story of his childhood crush, setting up his goal for the remainder of the film: win over the girl. Practically the same situation is applied to the 1987 John Hughes-penned film Some Kind of Wonderful, in which Keith (played by Eric Stolz) pines for a date with popular girl Amanda.
Take Me Home Tonight follows Matt’s exploits over one evening in which he throws aside his inhibitions (which have caused him to lead a very non-exciting life working in the mall thus far) and pursues not just the “girl of his dreams,” but finding his place in the world and thus establishing a direction for the future in which he’ll be a fully functioning member of society. As a send-up of the 80s comedies it imitates it works perfectly; all the needed elements, beyond even the main character’s motivation, are there. You have the reckless best friend, who chides the main character into the crazy events that unfold. Here, that character is Barry Nathan (played by Tony Award-winning actor Dan Fogler). Dan’s portrayal of Barry hearkens back to actor Curtis Armstrong’s portrayal of Tom Cruise’s best friend, Miles, in the 1983 film Risky Business. Miles has the single greatest line for the archetypal role of the peer-pressuring best friend: “Sometimes you just have to say, what the fuck, and make your move.” Barry doesn’t have a cool catch-phrase, but he does have a big bag of cocaine and a stolen luxury automobile.
Also present in Take Me Home… is, of course, the very necessary element of the Alpha male jerk-off, who represents everything our beloved main character is not. Actor Chris Pratt plays the role of the film’s obligatory jerk/jock, Kyle Masterson. Kyle is, to the dismay of Matt, dating Matt’s sister, Wendy (played by Anna Farris). Pratt hones in on his best prototypical 80s frat boy. However, unlike in so many of the films Take Me Home… is emulating, Kyle is not the direct opposition to Matt’s goal, which is the film’s love interest/desire. It turns out Matt is his own opposition, and it’s up to him to figure out how to defeat himself. Over the course of two parties on one night, Matt is given the battle field on which to wage his personal war, and win over the affection of Tori—or at least acquire her phone number.
Actresses Teresa Palmer and Anna Farris both play their roles as best they can, provided the limited room they were given to play with. Unfortunately the female roles in Take Me Home… are kind of relegated to the movie’s straight characters. There is little fun for either character to have outside of being wooed and hoping for grad school acceptance—that is, if you consider either of those things singularly fun. In the comedies of the 80s, like the John Hughes films Take Me Home… wants to be, the women are sometimes the strongest in the films. Even in Say Anything, where the lead female love interest is the most boring character in the film, the supporting females, particularly Lili Taylor’s character Corey Flood, are the most colorful and fun.
If I haven’t made it obvious yet, Take Me Home Tonight is a bit of mixed bag of a film. While it does capture the tropes, archetypes, and essence of the films it’s emulating, I find myself asking, is it really necessary? In recent interviews Topher Grace has recalled such previous nostalgia-based films such as American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused as inspiration for this film. But, if I were to play the critic, those films were particularly based on the filmmakers’ personal experiences; not trying to recapture the nostalgic emotion other people’s stories evoked in them. Even the very successful 2007 film Superbad was based on the screenwriter’s own night of high school debauchery. Superbad was released the same year that Take Me Home Tonight was made. While Grace has stated in interviews that Take Me Home Tonight was shelved for the last four years because of its heavy use of cocaine, I can’t help but wonder about the proximity to the very similarly themed film.
All of this leads to the film’s most unfortunate drawback, most likely due to the time spent unreleased: a good portion of the jokes feel reused. In most instances we’ve seen them before, as in the scene preceding the theft of a car, when our two main lovable characters begin lip-syncing along to the now classic rap song, “Straight out of Compton” by rap group NWA; see: Office Space, Tommy Boy, and Wayne’s World. To add to this, most of the music in Take Me Home Tonight is compromised of every 80′ song you’ve heard in films referencing the 80s; from “Video Killed the Radio Star” to “Let My Love Open the Door” and, of course, the titular song by Eddie Money.
Now that I’ve allowed the critic in me to nit-pick, I will backtrack a slight bit to where I referred to this film as a mixed bag; because, even with its faults, and my questioning of the continual revisiting of 80s nostalgia, I did have fun watching this movie. It definitely succeeds in allowing the viewer to escape into a fictitious world where maybe for a little bit you think about only these characters’ absurd problems. Topher Grace does his best John Cusack, and basically re-embodies the character of Eric Forman from the TV show that made Grace famous. Which, to note, Take Me Home Tonight was scripted by That 70s Show scribes Jeff and Jackie Filgo. And last, but certainly not least, I would not feel this review fully appropriate if I did not mention the film’s inclusion of one of my favorite actors of the 1980s, Michael Biehn. Biehn plays Matt’s dad, Bill, who just so happens to be an L.A. cop; makes you wonder where Bill Franklin was on that fateful night in 1984.