Monday, August 29, 2011

Totally 80's: 'Take Me Home Tonight'

Maybe it's because I'm now in my thirties, but in the past couple of years I've really gotten into nostalgia. Last year for a writing project, I started listening to music of the 1960's and '70's and I've never fully recovered. (Because seriously, that stuff is good.) As you've probably guessed from this summer's posts, I'm trying to re-establish the feel of the 1990's for another writing project (check out a fun guest blog I wrote about 90's TV BFF's).

And when it comes to totally tubular nostalgia, there's nothing like revisiting the 80's. Neon, mousse, perms, actual video stores: what's not to love? So when my pal Bob and I sprawled on his couch for a movie night, frozen spinach pizza in the oven and jasmine tea flowing (and we'd just been to yoga, because apparently we're yuppies now), the Amazon rental choice was simple: "Take Me Home Tonight."

The verdict? Decidedly: "Hm."

According to a Doug Loves Movies podcast with the "Parks and Recreation" cast, the movie did very poorly at the box office and was in fact shelved for almost four years due to a subplot involving cocaine. That said, you know what did well at the box office? "Transformers 3." And cocaine subplots? Psh. No, neither of those problems were the chief big issue of "Take Me Home Tonight." Quite frankly, the movie couldn't decided what it wanted to be.

Topher Grace plays Matt, a recent MIT grad who's spent the summer of 1988 working at Suncoast Video and living at home in the Valley area of L.A. Matt's not sure who and what he's supposed to be. He is sure he wants the attention of Tori (Teresa Palmer, who looks so much like Kristen Stewart in a blonde wig, it effed with my mind for the whole damn movie), his high school dream crush who of course didn't know he existed way back when. Meanwhile, Matt's best friend Barry (Dan Fogler) has just quit his car salesman job and Matt's twin Wendy (Anna Faris) is facing a major life decision of her own. And tonight's the big Labor Day bash thrown by Wendy's rich boyfriend Kyle (Chris Pratt, who isn't as adorable without the beard), where in true 80's movie style, everything will change and all will be revealed.

Sounds fun, right? I've always loved movies and books that take place in one spectacular night.("American Graffiti" is in my all-time top 10, and a poster for the movie is visible early in "Take Me Home Tonight.") And it takes place in the 80's, so there's fun music to listen to and wacky clothes to giggle at. All this should add up into one adorable romp, yeah?

Kind of.

It starts out that way for sure. There's a whole getting-ready-for-the-party montage involving mousse and shoulder pads. And all the great 80's movie staples are there: pretty youth with problems, fast cars and trampoline hijinks, and of course, an awesome soundtrack. Lucy Punch and Demetri Martin have small but hilarious roles as an overenthusiastic party guest and a bitter wheelchair-bound trader, respectively.

And then, "Take Me Home Tonight" takes a pretty dark turn.

I'm not against substance in 80's movies (the plot kind, not the narcotics kind). A family favorite is "Sixteen Candles," which boasts over-the-top silliness but also genuine heart (the scene between Sam and her father is really lovely). In fact, the best 80's movies were a ton of fun, but also took their characters seriously, knowing that pining after an unattainable boy/girl can mean everything to the pine-r. I think this mix of goof and sentiment is what "Take Me Home Tonight" was going for.

It didn't quite get there, though. Bob and I were chortling away at the opening scenes, but grew somber when the characters were revealed for the sad and desperate people they really were. And granted, sad and desperate can be darkly humorous, but here it was just dark. It's hard to giggle or go "aww" when a character is brutalized by his own father. All the nostalgia goes away, replaced by emotional disturbance. Not exactly fun Friday night viewing.

Say what you want about Adam Sandler - and believe me, I have - but I always thought "The Wedding Singer" did 80's nostalgia right. The movie combined a cute story with a love letter to the decade, with references to junk bonds and newfangled CD players sprinkled throughout. "Take Me Home Tonight" wasn't as successful: it hit us over the head with references, and then forgot about them as it segued into dramedy. And really, why weren't Bob Odenkirk and Michael Ian Black allowed to be funny?

As the credits rolled, I turned to Bob and asked, "what did you think?" "Um..." he trailed off. "I liked the soundtrack?"

I sighed. "Yeah, me too. Me too."

1 comment:

  1. Does nobody else think :"do I really want to sit through an hour and a half of Topher Grace being well..that kid from the 70s show without the funnies?" That's what the trailer did for me anyway.
    Spot on about everything-happening-in1-night movies though, gotta love 'em. And decade movies with the clothing and the hair and the music. You're right, it is hard to see why it wouldn't work. Would love to read your take on Hot Tub Time Machine. All the same gimmicks, including a great spin on Motley Crue's "home sweet home" and still manages to fall flat.