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Movie review: Take Me Home Tonight

March 4, 2011

If Ferris Bueller’s Day Off got really drunk and fell into bed with Less Than Zero, their fetal-alcohol-syndrome-afflicted offspring might be Take Me Home Tonight, a movie that aims to be to the 80s what Dazed and Confused was to the 70s. And after all, it’s high time: Michael Douglas has already revisited Wall Street.

Take Me Home takes place in LA and Beverly Hills and hits all the era’s tags—RayBans, pastel popped-collar polos, pushed-up jacket sleeves, Preppie bow ties vs. New Wave skinny ties, frizzbomb perms for girls and spiked mullets or Gordon Gecko mousse-backs for guys, video stores, red sports cars, cocaine, wild house parties, evil bankers, and, of course, a sinister and sexually perverted fat German businessman in shoulder-padded black leather. Wouldn’t be an 80s movie without one of those.

The story, one of those “guy grows up in the course of one wild and crazy night” deals, hits all the plot buttons too. Our too-straight hero manages to finally bust loose and somehow to fulfill both his parents’ expectations and the anarchic instincts of the loser sociopathic guy who’s inexplicably his best friend. It goes without saying that he gets the girl too. There are fibs and other deceptions, grand theft auto, cocaine abuse, dance-offs, police encounters, light sadomasochism, youthful irresponsibility and more. It’s all pretty silly and not to be taken seriously. There are absolutely no consequences for stealing the expensive sports car, bankers are prima facie arrogant and evil, and the moment of  moral triumph comes when Tori decides to quit her banking job, because, of course, she hates it. Believe me, I’m no fan of the banking industry (see last paragraphs), but most of these ideas are simply juvenile.

The script reminds me of a clumsy, first knitting effort, with stitches dropped all over the place and sleeves that lead nowhere, but that’s not to say it’s without its charms. Topher Grace and Anna Faris are twins Matt and Wendy Franklin, who know each other’s every thought and finish each others’ sentences, at least for the first five minutes. Then the entire twins thing is dropped and it’s like they’re just good friends. Grace is, as usual, decent at depicting a certain tortured, indecisive decency. He makes a good if not always believable or particularly charismatic Everyman.

Dan Fogler is Barry, the John Candy/Jim Belushi devil on Matt’s shoulder. Now, why an MIT grad like Matt is best friends with a guy who never went to college and has been selling cars for the past six years is just something we’re supposed to take on faith. We’re also to believe that Wendy is a gifted writer who applies to grad school at… wait for it… England’s Cambridge University. You know, at that reputable creative writing program they don’t have there.

I don’t know what happened to poor Anna Faris. I had high hopes for her as her generation’s Judy Holliday and kept thinking she just wasn’t getting the right parts, but she is officially in a bad spiral. Maybe it’s the smudged eye makeup and droopy lips that makes her look lost and lachrymose, but in this movie, her character is positively a drag.

The good news is that as object-of-desire Tori Fredreking, homecoming queen of their high school class, now newly hired banking intern at the then-all-powerful Drexel Burnham Lambert (Demetri Martin has a small role as a colleague), emerging star Teresa Palmer is fetching, fresh and very likable. She looks uncannily like a blonde Kristen Stewart, only not as dour, and with plenty of appeal all her own. And you’d never guess she’s Australian—her American accent is flawless.

Chris Pratt of my favorite current sitcom, Parks and Recreation, has a fun role as Wendy’s preppie frat-boy boyfriend. Though they play an unsuccessful couple in the movie, things were evidently warmer on-set, as Faris and Pratt married in real-life after working on this movie. Grace and Palmer are also reputedly a couple. That was one busy shoot!

This movie takes place on Labor Day weekend, 1988. It’s a real wasted opportunity that the movie doesn’t foreshadow the fact that in a matter of weeks the SEC would sue Drexel Burnham for insider trading, leading to one of the then-biggest Wall Street scandals ever, with the arrest of Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken. Now, THAT’s an interesting 80s story. Tori doesn’t have to quit; her company’s about to fold. Of course, this all seems positively quaint by today’s standards, when crimes of far greater magnitude and audacity go down in the financial world seemingly with no consequences, and plenty of people (including the bankers themselves) think bankers are kings of the world. Merrill Lynch bankers got huge bonuses after the subprime mortgage debacle, not prison sentences. Makes one remember with nostalgia the days when yuppies were considered scum.

On the way out my friend complained that Take Me Home Tonight is a pastiche of every 80s movie on the shelf. Like that’s a bad thing. Sure, this movie can’t hold a glow stick to Dazed and Confused, which is a perfect piece of cinema. But children of the 80s might still find Take Me Home Tonight a harmlessly enjoyable blast from our past.

Rating: 2.5/5


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