Take Me Home Tonight
Dir: Michael Dowse
Imagine if you will, a time of wanton excess, of American prosperity at its most magnificent. It may be tricky, considering our current socio-economic climate; yet there are plenty of eras, most of them fairly recent, to choose from for the sake of this exercise. Let’s say you’re a twentysomething recalling those immediate post-college, pre-recession days of golden opportunity and delicious indecision: days that landed you an overpaid investment-banking gig or a backpacking trip across Europe or an internship at some earthy-crunchy non-profit – anything but what most of the world considers reality. Or perhaps you’re a little older, a mortgage-paying, nine-to-five adhering adult who looks back on the wild ’80s as the heyday of your life. Maybe you’ve even got a kid in college now, and you think about the crazy counter-culture haze that engulfed your own stint with higher education…and wonder how in heaven’s name junior is going to get a decent job after graduation.
Couched in our recession-stricken world — a world in which college graduates face the same unemployment odds as the general population and find themselves forced to move home by the truckload — Take Me Home Tonight is an odd release. The film is an ’80s throwback to the max, a raucous mash-up of shiny bright nostalgia, current pop culture and that soon-to-be extinct brand of youthful angst, the ennui of the over-privileged. And at the risk of over-thinking what should by all rights be dismissed as teen fluff, there is an arguable streak of poignancy lacing this cinematic neon cocktail. For as the older audience members (this reviewer included) roll their eyes at the obvious plot turns and ever-raunchier sight gags, the young kids who love this stuff are laughing, cooing, shrieking and swooning at the antics of “kids” played by grown-ups, all living in a world to which they’ll likely never belong.
Take Me Home Tonight follows former super-nerd Matt Franklin (Topher Grace), his loser buddy Barry (Dan Fogler) and brainy-yet-popular twin sister Wendy (an underused Anna Faris) on a booze-fueled odyssey that will go down in glorious infamy as the best night ever. Wallowing in a dead-end job at Suncoast Video despite purported brilliance and a recently acquired degree from M.I.T., Matt is content to watch his life go by – that is, until the day his unattainable high-school crush, Tori (Teresa Palmer) breezes into the video store and inspires him to claim employment at Goldman Sachs, help Barry steal a snazzy car and show up in style at an annual Labor Day bash hosted by Wendy’s vapid, cool-dude boyfriend Kyle (Chris Pratt) – all in the hope of finally getting his “in” and asking Tory out.
The unoriginal plot and standard “bromance” duo don’t make for many surprises (although Fogler does manage to put his own signature spin on the sloppy sidekick role by channeling a bizarre combination of Jack Black and Will Ferrell in conjunction with his own shtick). Grace is adorably awkward as always, Fogler makes one mess after another to divert our attention from the “will he or won’t he?” Tori saga and Faris is relegated to a bit role that doesn’t do her justice. The very pretty Palmer does stand out a bit from the rest, mostly due to her character’s refreshing appeal (at least during the middle third of the movie). Conditioned by similar “dream girl” scenarios and Matt’s crippling fear of rejection, it’s easy to expect golden girl Tori to be dumb, bitchy or just downright boring; but instead, she’s fairly interesting, sweet and similar to Matt in that she doesn’t want to be gainfully employed at the expense of flexible options for the future. The handful of earnest exchanges between Matt and Tori on this issue lie at the heart of that poignancy I’m talking about: their sense of liberation, of scoffing in the face of crummy, pervy corporate execs and ditching a crucial networking event to jump barefoot on a trampoline is the symbolic equivalent of sticking it to the man – a 20th century right of passage that few millennials will be able to afford.
Gone are the days of entry-level millions and carefree unemployment. And maybe this is why Take Me Home Tonight works better as an ’80s flick than it would as a farewell to idealistic vacillations of our latest and now largely jobless twentysomething generation. Painted as a heyday now 20 years removed from reality, the not-so-distant option to wander the globe in search of a calling may seem less like something to feel cheated out of and more like something to ask mom and dad to tell funny stories about.
Of course, none of this might so much as crossed my mind, had I not seen the film amidst a crowd of skinny, excited, incredibly young looking undergrads at a campus promo screening. No matter how sorely I was tempted to groan, scoff and otherwise berate both this movie and the hyperactive enthusiasm of its young fan base with all the acidity and jaded cynicism I could muster, something about the group’s exuberance cut me off short. Viewed in the privacy of your own home or a half-empty theater, Take Me Home Tonight is a frothy effort without anything extraordinary to offer. But college town residents, beware: watching this movie in the presence of its intended audience just might throw you for a loop and hit secret, even tender pockets of nostalgia that reach far beyond Ray Bans and a great pop-rock soundtrack.
by Lauren Westerfield