Movie Review: Take Me Home Tonight
By Matthew Huntley
March 10, 2011
Take Me Home Tonight is a 2011 comedy set in the 1980s. There’s no apparent reason for this other than to provide the movie with ample opportunities to take harmless jabs at the ‘80s and further solidify it as a decade that now has a lot of us asking, what the heck were we thinking?! The stonewashed jeans; the hair spray; the uncharacteristic cars; the cheesy music; the skinny ties; and, of course, the raunchy teenage sex comedies. These aren’t bad things, mind you, but they still prompt us to question the era’s cultural zeitgeist.
Yes, this movie would have fit right into the 1980s, with all its themes and distinct sense of humor, but what’s pleasantly surprising about it is it doesn’t seem too pre-occupied with letting us know when it takes place, at least not after its opening credits. Once its setting is established—Los Angeles, 1988—the story moves on and focuses on the characters, who are genuinely sweet, smart and remind us that post-adolescent growing pains are universal and timeless, no matter what decade you experienced them.
If you’ve seen any variety of ‘80s teen comedies (it’s practically a genre unto itself), you’ll probably find this one suffers and succeeds for more or less the same reasons as those from nearly 30 years ago. If you happen to be a fan of Weird Science, Sixteen Candles, Adventures in Babysitting, or the like, then there’s no reason you won’t find Take Me Home Tonight appealing; if you weren’t, then perhaps you can identify with the characters anyway.
Once again, this is a coming-of-age tale coupled with a love story that all takes place in one night (of course). There are other givens, including the wild house party with virtually no signs of mature adults; archetypal characters, like the booze-guzzling, testosterone-driven jocks who are really just pussy cats at heart; and the skinny, nerdy hero. That hero is Matt Franklin (Topher Grace), a genius with numbers and an MIT graduate. He’s got a lot of brains but not much ambition. His father (Michael Biehn) tells him he’s not even up to the level of a failure since he hasn’t tried anything yet (you’re awarded no points if you think that’ll change tonight).
Matt works at Suncoast Video and the only thing on his mind is the return of his high school crush, Tori Frederking (Teresa Palmer). When he sees her, he lies and says he works for Goldman Sachs. She’s impressed and says she’ll see him at the party tonight. Funny how there’s always a party or a dance in these types of movies.
Anyway, Matt heads there with his twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris) and best friend Barry (Dan Fogler). Before we know it, the ‘80s teen comedy formula has taken full shape and one by one, the characters experience self-revelations, hook-ups, drugs, a couple of car chases and the inevitable run-in with the law.
Despite its formula, the characters in Take Me Home Tonight are actually written and performed genuinely, enough that we pay attention to what they’re saying and care about what they’re going through. I appreciated how they weren’t merely turned into one-dimensional clowns that only catered to crude humor and visual gags. The movie takes them and their situations more seriously, including the subplot where Wendy must choose between a comfortable marriage to her juvenile boyfriend (Chris Pratt) or graduate school. Matt and Tori also share some thoughtful discussions about what makes them happy and what’s expected of them just because they went to college. Granted, this is all fairly standard stuff, but because we like the characters and believe they could exist, we hear what they’re saying and identify with their dilemmas. As for Barry, he may be the token, overweight goofball, but Fogler makes him more nutty than annoying, and when you consider how easy it would have been to go the other way, we’ll take it.
Take Me Home Tonight is not comic gold, and there are parts of it that are too over-the-top and schmaltzy for their own good, but if we simply enjoy the company of the characters, it’s harmless fun. The story could have just easily taken place in 2011 and it would have had the same effect, but by the time we realize this, we’re amused and entertained enough that the questionable setting becomes less of a concern.