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Take Me Home Tonight

March 6, 2011
Take Me Home Tonight

Not to step on any copyrighted toes, but I love the ’80s. And in particular I love ’80s movies, especially the outrageous teen and young adult comedies. John Hughes will always have a special place in my heart. And evidently I’m not the only one who feels like this, because everyone involved in Take Me Home Tonight clearly loves the ’80s too. It’s pitch-perfect, hilarious, and fun, and it clearly knows what was so great about the movies it does homage to.

It’s 1988, and Matt Franklin (Topher Grace) is a young man adrift. He made it through high school playing an extra in his own life before going off to M.I.T. To study engineering. But now he’s back in Los Angeles and working at Suncoast while he figures out what he wants to do with his life. His twin sister, Wendy (Anna Faris), is wasting her writing talents hanging around with the preppy Kyle Masterson (Chris Pratt), and his best friend, Barry Nathan (Dan Fogler), is in his own downward spiral, losing his job as a car salesman who skipped college entirely.

And then Matt learns that Tori Fredreking (Teresa Palmer) is in town, working an internship at an investment bank. Tori, we learn, was Matt’s great, unspoken crush back in high school, not to mention the prom queen and an all-around great person with nothing but success in her future. But since she obviously would never give him the time of day if she knew he worked at Suncoast, he tells her he’s working for Goldman Sachs. She let’s on that she’ll be at Kyle’s big Labor Day party, and he agrees to meet her there.

So now Matt is on a collision course with destiny, with the emphasis on “collision”. There’s a massive, messy blowout of a party, straight out of Weird Science, along with another one stocked with investment bankers in Beverly Hills. There is auto theft and cocaine use. There are madcap antics and earnest, emotional monologues. There are pools and, of course, people falling in them. And there is an ominous, giant steel ball that obviously must be unleashed by the time the curtain draws closed on this night.

And there’s the music. Almost the entire movie is set to a fantastic array of the greatest hits from the ’80s. For the few places that need filling in with an original score, it’s provided by no less than Trevor Horn from The Buggles. And they don’t just pick the cheesiest, poppiest songs, inviting us to smirk backwards; “Der Kommissar”, “Safety Dance”, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, and “Come On Eileen” are standards, but we’ve also got “Kickstart My Heart”, “Warm Leatherette”, and even “Straight Outta Compton”. Every last one of them is excellent.

For their parts, the actors throw themselves into their roles with just as much sincerity and aplomb. Grace may have an easier time of it, since he’s basically extending his character from That ’70s Show, but Faris and Palmer get into the spirit of the project as well. And Fogler truly is the modern-day Curtis Armstrong.

It would be easy for them to smirk at the corny earnestness that marks this whole genre, especially now, when it’s no longer cool to actually believe or feel anything. But part of what makes these movies from the ’80s great is that you could be sincere and have fun with it. They can be zany and yet retain an honestly meaningful emotional core.

Of course the emotional core in this case is wrapped around Matt’s existential crisis, but in fact none of these characters really know who they are or who they want to be. Barry regrets skipping college for a career path that has flopped. Anna is ambivalent about her relationship with Kyle. And even Tori, with her life all falling into place neatly, has her misgivings. Though it wouldn’t be true to say that some people don’t have it easier or harder than others, this sense of fearful uncertainty is more or less universal. And it’s exactly that sense of losing one’s grip that can be embraced on the wildest night of your life.

Worth It: only if you’re willing to admit that you, too, love the ’80s.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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