Friday, March 11, 2011

Take Me Home Tonight

This post originally appeared online at MediaBlvd Magazine.

This weekend’s underperforming opener, Michael Dowse’s Take Me Home Tonight, is, at the very least, a successful follow-up to That ‘70s Show after the letdown of the short-lived That ‘80s Show.  Where That ‘70s Show succeeded (quite like Freaks and Geeks, another nostalgic series about teenagers) was that it could have been a show about modern high school, just contextualized by historical references to the time.  While That ‘80s Show was mostly a series of old=lol jokes, Take Me Home Tonight much more successfully puts story before conceit.  It is an ‘80s-set romantic comedy made in the style of actual 1980s romantic comedies.  Experiments like this one don’t always work (Down With Love), and even though this time it does, it means is that sometimes the pacing and storytelling feel dated in a bad way.
Take Me Home Tonight follows one night in the life of Matt Franklin (Topher Grace, as Executive Producer and with a writing credit), an ambitionless MIT graduate given the opportunity to reconnect with his high school crush Tori Fredreking (Teresa Palmer, Australia’s answer to Kristen Stewart, but with personality).  Joining him are his twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris) and his best friend Barry Nathan (Dan Fogler, channeling Curtis Armstrong).  In order to impress Tori, Matt hides the fact that he is killing time working at Suncoast video, and spends the evening pretending to be an investment banker at Goldman Sachs.  A high school reunion party, a stolen car, a wild prank, and more than a few hijinks later, Matt inevitably has to confront his lie.

The chemistry between Grace and Palmer is believable, both that he would be the awkward nerd from high school, and that she would give him a chance after all this time.  Together they attend a wild house party, move on to a swanky party for Drexel bankers (before the firm’s collapse into bankruptcy), and find some private time on a trampoline in an empty backyard.  The film manages to speak to the theme of post-graduate ennui present in movies like Less Than Zero or St. Elmo’s Fire, but in an upbeat tone that somewhat answers what might have happened to Brat Pack romances four years after high school.  Topher Grace has that look, too…like John Cusack, good-looking, but probably not the handsomest man in the casting office.  Teresa Palmer has that attainable beauty.  Obviously she’s the most gorgeous woman that the protagonist has ever seen, but she’s real, and you might see that girl at the mall and fall in love with her.  Like a blonde, bubbly Phoebe Cates. 

Dan Fogler’s performance as a just-fired car salesman doing cocaine for the first time is hilarious as he has alternately the best and worst night of his life.  He fulfills the sidekick role of the ‘80s movie perfectly, exposing himself and us to naked MILF breasts, getting into a crazy dance-battle, and building up Matt’s confidence when needed.  Anna Faris plays Matt’s twin sister with enough depth to sell the notion that they love each other enough to tell the other one what they’re doing wrong.  Chris Pratt plays her onscreen boyfriend with all the energy he hadn’t yet been able to manifest on Parks and Recreation (the film was shot in 2007, and Faris and Pratt have since gotten married), and his overacted bawling is an extended high point.  Michael Ian Black and Demetri Martin own the scenes they’re featured in, and Lucy Punch stands out as that drunk girl who keeps popping up in party scenes in teen movies.

Surely an unexpected benefit to the movie being set in the ‘80s is that its shelving for four years didn’t awkwardly date it with references to Anna Nicole Smith and the final book in the Harry Potter series.  The 1980s setting was well played with things like a sushi bar to indicate that a party is fancy (Valley Girl), and Topher Grace’s ill-fitting jeans, and only a few things struck me as off-kilter – mostly that none of the women seemed to be wearing pantyhose.  Most of the recent ‘what a wild night’ comedies seem to be more over-the-top and manic than similar movies were in the ‘80s, and while that may just be my perception, it meant that the John Hughes-y quality of Take Me Home Tonight made the movie feel a little slow-paced at times.  The story’s dramatic high points don’t feel as high-stakes as they could, but I loved the scene where Matt and Barry are confronted by the police and tearfully admit to everything that’s happened in the story until that point.  As the daughter of two law enforcement officers (really), I definitely identified with how that scene would have gone down.

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