Is it possible to recommend a movie strictly for its soundtrack? Take Me Home Tonight, which takes place in the 1980s, deftly utilizes some of that decade’s best songs, and as an unashamed fan of that kind of music, I found myself mouthing along a couple of times. I distinctly remember “Don’t You Want Me,” “Bette Davis Eyes,” and “Hungry Like the Wolf”; the latter plays during the film’s highly stylized opening credit sequence, which depicts a very appropriate-looking high school yearbook. Even the font used for each credit was a loving throwback. I must say, though, it’s flagrant false advertising to not include the very song the movie gets its title from. I was really looking forward to that one.
Alas, a movie is about more than the music it features. Beyond the soundtrack, there isn’t much of anything going on here. The fact that it takes place in the ‘80s should have allowed for a plethora of stylistic touches and insider references, but by and large, a lot has been left out. We do get a few brief scenes in a Suncoast Video store, and I appreciated them because I’m old enough to remember the days of videocassettes. This is a bit of a digression, but I loved browsing around Suncoast and Tower Records and Sam Goodie and the mom-and-pop video stores, where movies were rented for one night and patrons were reminded to be kind and rewind. They’re all gone now. The internet has seen to that. Things change, I know, but I do sometimes long for the good old days.
Back to the movie. In the year 1988, MIT graduate Matt Franklin (Topher Grace) finds himself stocking cassettes at Suncoast Video, for he’s too scared to take risks and doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. Much to the chagrin of his parents, especially his cop father (Michael Biehn), he will continue to work there – and to live with them – until he figures things out. By chance, he runs into his high school crush, Tori Fredreking (Teresa Palmer), who has done well for herself as a banker. In a desperate attempt to impress her, he lies and tells her that he’s a banker himself, specifically at Goldman Sachs. She’s surprised, for she didn’t know that Goldman Sachs had a branch in Los Angeles. But he seems to know what he’s talking about, and she seems to like him, so she invites him to a Labor Day party.
Joining him is his best friend, Barry (Dan Fogler), a recently fired car salesman, who spends most of the film making himself even more pathetic than Matt. Also along for the ride is Matt’s twin sister, Wendy (Anna Farris), who just happens to be dating the chauvinist pig hosting the party, who seems to enjoy repeatedly telling the same dirty story about he and Wendy entering the condo market. She has applied to the graduate program at Cambridge, and although she has received a reply, she’s too afraid to open the envelope. What do you think the letter will say? How do you think it will affect her relationship with the chauvinist, especially after he proposes to her?
What it essentially boils down to is Matt having to learn how to let go, be honest, and discover who he really is. Yes, this is realistic; stop anyone on the street, and I can guarantee you that they’re either struggling to find purpose or have struggled in the past. This is also hopelessly uninspired when it comes to movie plots. So what if Matt doesn’t know what he wants to do? Give me a reason to care, and I mean besides the fact that he wants to be with Tori – who, as it turns out, hates her job and is just as confused about what path her life should take. There’s nothing all that compelling playing out, here. Young people really aren’t supposed to know who they are, anyway. That’s kind of the purpose of those early years: To try a little bit of everything and let the pieces fall into place on their own.
Another ‘80s throwback is the frequent usage of cocaine, mostly by Barry; because of this, he finds himself in a dance-off with break dancer, a sexual encounter with a cougar-type (whose boyfriend likes to watch), and eventually a strange friendship with a goth stereotype, whose look is about ten years ahead of schedule. He and Matt will wind up in a stolen car, which leads to an arrest scene so badly written that I wanted to throw something at the screen. I suspect it was intended to be funny, but on the basis of the three other people in the theater with me – yes, I said three – it was clear that the screenwriters had no idea what they were doing. The only scene of Take Me Home Tonight that made me chuckle was early in the film. It’s when Matt and Barry, suburban white men, ride in a car lip-synching to N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton.” If the filmmakers had taken that level of humor and added a few Rubik’s cubes and leg warmers, we would have been in business.
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