REVIEW: Take Me Home Tonight [2011]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 97 minutes | Release Date: March 4th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Relativity Media / Rogue Pictures
Director(s): Michael Dowse
Writer(s): Jackie Filgo & Jeff Filgo / Topher Grace & Gordon Kaywin (story)

“That was a metaphor. I totally got him.”

As this week’s box office shows in contrast to my huge level of enjoyment with Take Me Home Tonight, it appears director Michael Dowse has another cult classic on his hands. Already with It’s All Gone Pete Tong and a duo of Fubar films containing a pretty vocal fan following—how else would what looks like a major low-budget flick in the latter get funding for sequel Balls to the Wall—I’d have to imagine the lackluster opening of his newest won’t get him down. I honestly don’t quite comprehend it, though, as the core foursome of Topher Grace, Dan Fogler, Anna Faris, and Teresa Palmer should bring in an audience on paper. Couple that with the hilarious viral music video for Atomic Tom’s cover of “Don’t You Want Me” and I couldn’t resist seeing it opening night with a pretty packed audience, albeit within one of my local Regal’s smallest theatres. This thing is Superbad meets American Pie 2 inside the 80s Viewfinder of Hot Tub Time Machine. The laughs are huge and they are plenty.

Perhaps Grace was finding himself in 70s aesthetic overkill, or maybe his eight seasons on “That ‘70s Show” planted the seed to delve into a decade closer to home. Either way, the synthesis of Take Me Home Tonight came from he and Gordon Kaywin, making way for Jackie and Jeff Filgo to write the actual script they’d bring to life. And a lot of people believed in the words and jokes since there are small cameos by a ton of recognizable comedic faces like Lucy Punch, Bob Odenkirk, and Michael Ian Black, all adding a bit of their own personalities alongside genre actor Michael Biehn as Grace’s father and local policeman, sprinkling some of his own no-nonsense tough guy persona. While it’s a somewhat uninspired thematic take on college graduates devoid of life’s answer or a clue towards the future that makes up the world this myriad of characters exist in, they overcome any limitations from cliché. This is the 80s after all, a well-placed polyester top, massively hairsprayed coiffure, soundtrack glory with the likes of Men Without Hats and Kim Carnes, or a quick glimpse at Harry and the Hendersons on a video store tv can overcome anything.

That said, however, ultimate success is made by the merits of its stars. You’ve got Matt Franklin (Grace), an MIT graduate who abhors his genius with numbers and would rather slum it at a minimum wage mall job than actually make a decision for once in his life; his twin sister Wendy (Faris) who’s fear of rejection prevents her from opening a response from Cambridge about placement in their graduate writing program; Matt’s best friend Barry Nathan (Fogler) who decided against college in lieu of utilizing his fantastic bullshitting skills as a car salesman by day, alcohol enthusiast by night; Tori Frederking (Palmer), the gorgeous success story banker back in town to torment Matt as the high school crush he’s never been anything but awkward with; and Wendy’s boyfriend Kyle Masterson (Chris Pratt), the biggest tool from their class, complete with popped collar, homoerotic wrestling best friends disguised as machismo, and the extensive use of the word ‘choice’. The beauty of them all, though, is that no mater how two-dimensional the parts seem, they somehow cultivate fully fleshed people we can sympathize with, pull for, and enjoy in their sorrow.

Take Me Home Tonight is Grace and company’s homage to classic 80s fare such as The Breakfast Club, complete with angst, puppy love, and sentimentality-infused absurdity. They don’t pull punches, though, and when you’ve got car theft, massive cocaine consumption, party crashing, trespassing, kinky sexual adventures, and the suicidal dare to ride down an LA hill inside a metal sphere without restraints, you’ll understand the filmmakers aren’t afraid of an R-rating. The audience they’re after is in their late-20s, early-30s now anyways, so the worry is non-existent. If anything, the hard-R only helps bring in the younger co-eds looking for filmed debauchery, even if they don’t ‘get’ the 80s gems sprinkled throughout. All the themes at play transcend time anyway; we all know the tropes of obnoxious loudmouths, meek nerds who have yet to overcome their insecurities, and smart girls still hiding behind a muscular man who’d rather her stay home with an apron than become a success. Every character is relatable and that only makes their asinine actions funnier. Even the highly manufactured scenery like Demetri Martin’s cynical, pragmatic paraplegic and Michelle Trachtenberg’s goth chick have a welcome authenticity to them.

Credit needs to go to the writing team and director for making this romp work broadly and with its target of nostalgia-yearning young adults only a few years removed from the characters. The blunders of Grace alongside Palmer’s warming heart as she realizes her usual ‘type’ is no longer viable; Faris’s surprisingly effective battle between co-dependent housewife or working girl opposite Pratt’s comical lack of brains, tact, or compassion; and Fogler’s scene-stealing, drug-riddled, drunk depressive willing to do anything—even let a leather-clad German watch as he gets down with a cougar—excel at all times, never falling into ruts of repetition or too far into the farce of it all. For every sweet moment of cluelessness from Grace you’ll get a Karate Kid infused dance-off, a brash attempt to be the life of the party, or just a fantastic oneliner from Fogler—a mountain of a performance that takes your attention and never gives it back. Starting with the retro Imagine Entertainment logo animation and continuing to the yearbook credit sequence on through this last Labor Day party before adulthood consumes them, this film is a really great comedy above the fact I’m a child of the 80s myself.

[1] (Left to right.) TOPHER GRACE and TERESA PALMER star in Relativity Media’s TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT. SM © 2011 Relativity Jackson, LLC and Internationale Filmproduktion Blackbird Dritte GmbH & Co. KG. All Rights Reserved.
[2] (Left to right.) ROBERT HOFFMAN and DAN FOGLER star in Relativity Media’s TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT. Photo Credit: Ron Batzdorff / SM © 2011 Relativity Jackson, LLC and Internationale Filmproduktion Blackbird Dritte GmbH & Co. KG. All Rights Reserved.
[3] (Left to right.) ANNA FARIS and CHRIS PRATT star in Relativity Media’s TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT. SM © 2011 Relativity Jackson, LLC and Internationale Filmproduktion Blackbird Dritte GmbH & Co. KG. All Rights Reserved.

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