Do you remember the 80s? Of course you do. Everyone remembers the 80s even if you didn’t live through them. It was pop-art made flesh and then made neon. There were bright colors, exuberant clothes, and if your song didn’t feature at least one synthesizer, then it wasn’t worth listening to it. We’ve been to the 80s and it’s tough to find a reason to go back. Take Me Home Tonight certainly can’t find one and it drowns its affable leads and their charming performances in a sea of nostalgia and iconography.
Matt (Topher Grace) is a recent MIT grad who is wasting away his mathematical genius at the local Suncoast Video Store. While he’s pondering his meaningless existence, his high-school crush Tori Frederking (Teresa Palmer) walks in to the store, and Matt hides the fact that he works there. He lies to Tori by telling her he works at Goldman Sachs, and she invites him to a party that night. Matt sees this as his big chance and brings along his twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris) and best friend Barry (Dan Fogler) as back-up. But both Wendy and Barry have their own drama. Wendy wants to study creative writing at Cambridge but is afraid her dim bulb boyfriend Kyle (Chris Pratt) won’t be supportive, and Barry, after being laid off from his long-time job at a car dealership, wants the college experience he never had. Matt, Wendy, and Barry head to the party looking to have a good time and end up having life-changing revelations through their night of revelry.
All of the characters in Take Me Home Tonight are likable. They’re funny, they get some sharp lines of dialogue, and their problems feel real. Even supporting characters like Kyle or Matt’s paraplegic classmate Carlos (Demetri Martin) get a chance to shine. Most importantly, there’s chemistry between all of the leads, and it’s crucial to make the relationship between Matt and Tori work. You feel that Matt actually comes alive and is a better person when he’s with her and Palmer makes Tori more than just “The Love Interest”. Fogler is, as always, outstanding and I remain convinced that he’s destined to be a major star.
But all of this charm is no match for the unanswerable question: Why is this movie set in the 1980s? When I interviewed Topher Grace a couple weeks ago, he said that their intent was to make a movie that wasn’t a parody and recalled the way movies like Dazed and Confused and American Graffiti simply exist in a time period rather than constantly call attention to it. It doesn’t look like director Michael Dowse got that message. Every song in the movie is an 80s hit and most of the costumes scream “Can you believe people wore that?!”. The movie revels in its aesthetic, but never justifies its existence. More than anything, the 80s setting simply provides a distraction.
With the 80s candy coating not making the movie any sweeter, the film’s other flaws begin to show. The pacing is slow and when the flick slams into the third act and has to develop the more dramatic material for Matt and Wendy, it doesn’t realize that Barry’s storyline is crucial to keeping the energy of the film alive. Furthermore, the story spreads itself so thin that Wendy’s storyline feels simplistic and underserved when compared to Matt’s coming-of-age conflict and Barry’s cocaine-fueled shenanigans.
The cast of Take Me Home Tonight do their best to keep the movie afloat in the raging seas of 80s nostalgia. The actors play well off each other, understand their characters, and have solid comic timing. But rather than let these characters breathe and emote in a movie that happens to take place in the 80s, the characters of Take Me Home Tonight are always overshadowed by the fact that they’re in an 80s movie.