Take Me Home Tonight

You know you’re getting old when you’re hit with a sudden proliferation of nostalgic films from a decade you actually lived through. So when I saw Take Me Home Tonight advertised, I was, to say the least, nonplussed. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a sweet and honest tale of what happens when wide-eyed Eighties excess is tempered by humble crushes and funny asides.

Take Me Home Tonight tells the story of Matt Franklin (Topher Grace) a recent graduate of prestigious MIT. Having no clue as to what to do for a living, he works in the local video store whilst his contemporaries follow the successful but soulless graduate training programmes at big banks. One day Matt’s unrequited high school crush, Tori (Teresa Palmer) invites him to a legendary end-of-summer party. Desperate to impress, Matt lies and says that he is a banker just like Tori. He then has to enlist his best pal, hopeless ex-car salesman Barry (Dan Fogler) and twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris) in his once-in-a-lifetime plan to get the girl.

Star Grace also co-wrote and co-produced the film, so it’s his baby. Did this two-bit star of That 70’s show have any right to inflict yet another coming-of-age drama upon the viewing public? Apparently he did, as Grace and director Michael Dowse have produced an absolute gem. It is so easy to stereotype the 80’s as a decade of neon-coated over-indulgence, but the film’s deft depiction of people and events is right on the money. Grace wisely plays Matt as an early Tom Hanks dependable everyman, and you’re soon rooting for him. Meanwhile, playing up to a short, pudgy caricature like there’s no tomorrow, Fogler’s Barry comes from the Zack Galifianakis school of visual comedy and perfectly encapsulates the age of the yuppie show-off. He bounds around the screen like a deranged puppy on acid most of the time, such as in this clip from the first few minutes of the film:

Take Me Home Tonight nicely weaves Barry’s loser story in with the burgeoning love between Tori and Matt, to make sure things never become saccharine. And although Anna Faris was probably hired for her name rather than her skills, her Wendy, the bright graduate who has to choose between staying still with her college boyfriend or doing a Masters at Cambridge is well observed. Full of funny visual and wordy gags, including a wheelchair-bound banker who “bets his legs on” Matt mucking things up with Tori and a brilliant scene involving some cocaine, a car crash and the 80’s obsession with air bags, Take Me Home Tonight has enough content to cater to both sexes. That’s pretty impressive for a film that rarely stoops to Apatow-style humour to get a laugh. The casting agent also made some choice decisions regarding the secondary characters, with loonies Lucy Punch, Michelle Tractenberg and Angie Everhart all thoroughly enjoying themselves. Grace is shrewd in the message he wants Matt to convey in the film. Matt voices his concerns that his sister shouldn’t marry too young, he doesn’t do drugs nor does he condemn those who do, and his cringe-worthy attempts to chat up Tori would make Ricky Gervais proud. This makes Take Me Home Tonight a film that absolutely nails young American inertia whilst retaining its humility, not an easy task. It also unsurprisingly delivers a storming soundtrack, cleverly timed to match the plot.

If I had to critique Take Me Home Tonight, I would say that it isn’t peddling anything that we’ve not seen before. There are funnier films, there’s nothing arch about the script, and the leads do stupid things without any real retribution. It is merely a movie day in the life. But it’s an exceptionally well presented day. Derivative and unoriginal, it may be a puffball parable, but I would gladly watch it again.

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