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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Take Me Home Tonight


That 80's Movie

I think the most ironically unsatisfying thing about this movie is that it is funny. But, when I look back on it, what was I laughing at that wasn't a hollow punchline I had heard before? In other, better movies, no less. More so than acting as an homage to 80's movies, it acts as an homage to the 80's itself - a decade where people were just discovering excess and learning what cocaine was. The characters here aren't really characters, but stereotypes of the characters they should have been. It's a thin veil, but someone had to inhabit it. It's a shame, though, that the actors uniformly do a good job. They just don't have anything to work with.

More after the cut--

It's 1988. And the film never lets you forget it. One positive is this - it winds up not suffering from Yesterday Syndrome, which is a pleasant surprise. I should explain that, though - technically, it's a fantasy film about an idea of the 80's. So, all it was required to do was look like the 80's. It did. Doesn't matter if it looked like it was filmed yesterday or not, because it has the feel of the time. That, and the idea of it. Still, it's 1988 - and Matt (Topher Grace) works at Suncoast Video in the mall. Only problem, he's an MIT engineering graduate. His sister Wendy (Anna Faris) is working to get her life in order, while deciding between Cambridge for grad school and her boyfriend Kyle (Chris Pratt). His best friend Barry (Don Fogler, the consummate best friend) urges him to ask out his high school crush, Tori (Teresa Palmer), who wanders into the video store because we need a plot point after six minutes of opening credits.

The dialogue in the film is interesting, simply because it serves to move the film along. Almost every line in the film serves the purpose of telling the story, recapping what happened, and then moving the film forward. There are punchlines, and plot points, and that's the script. It never serves to make the characters interesting. They're drawn as 2D, and I think that's on purpose. If there were a fully fleshed character in the film, it would throw the dynamic off. No excuse, mind you, but never mind. That's how it is. One character will talk about what's happening, and then what's going to happen next, and then the characters will go do that and then talk about something else that'll happen and why they're all there. In fact, I can only recall one particular scene that doesn't involve spouting a plot point or serving a scene like art direction. It's a monologue that Topher Grace gives when he's asked which department he works in for Goldman Sachs (of course, he doesn't work for Goldman Sachs; he lied to Tori). He gives a math lesson, and the film comes to a screeching halt, almost as if waiting for something positive to happen. It does, but only for a minute and we're right back to the task at hand. Keeping the viewer informed (probably because half of them might be asleep at this point).

To get with Tori, Matt lies about his job. He sees her come into the video store and he runs in the back, takes of his vest, and "bumps" into her coming back in like a customer. She tells him she's in banking, and asks what he does. "Oh, I work at Goldman Sachs." She says that she wasn't aware Sachs had an LA office. That's a running gag in the film. They do, and did at that time. That doesn't seem to matter, though. Tori knows what she's talking about, anyway. So, Sachs doesn't have an LA office, but she believes him anyway and invites him to Kyle's party. Where the rest of the film takes place, after Barry steals a car from his old auto-dealership (from which he gets fired in the opening of the film), finds a bag of cocaine, and... well, that's pretty much it. That sets up the next scene. They don't need to do anything else, apparently.

So, they get to the party, and that's it. They party, make friends, lose friends, get laid, do drugs, and rule the world for one night. The characters have their own coming of age moments, except for Barry who just displays alcoholism and drug addiction like he's in an "Scared Straight" special.  The party moves from one house to another (with more bankers and a chance for Matt to get even deeper into his lie).

A note about Matt's lie - it isn't that much of a lie. At least, not as big a deal as Tori makes it. She's the stereotype of the selfish rom-com supporting character who can't listen to reason. Most girls like guys who go to great lengths to impress them. Of course, lying doesn't help matters much, but that's beside the point. And yes, how do you know everything is true, what the character is saying. You listen. Storming off, or rather moving the plot forward, only elongates stupidity and stereotype. Most people can talk about things. But, most movie 20 year olds are impatient.

The nostalgia of the film never wears off, fortunately. Too bad it isn't enough to carry the film. The weight, which is feather, is too much for the screenplay, which isn't enough for the actors, who are too much for the director, which leaves not enough for the audience. When the film can't balance itself to even make it out of the starting gate before tripping over its feet, how can you expect people to respond? Positively, I guess, which they did. The average movie goer won't have these complaints. But, the average movie goer watches movies for different reasons that people who get paid to. Or people who live and breathe film. Or people who just really enjoy quality movies and want to develop taste. Take Me Home Tonight serves to do neither of those things. It furthers nothing but stereotypes that Saved By the Bell had cornered a long time ago, and it doesn't develop taste, except for its aftertaste, which is disarmingly unpleasant.

Take Me Home Tonight is kind of like a kid doing magic tricks on the street. You don't take it home. Give it a few bucks, shut your brain off for a few minutes, but... you leave it where you found it. And you go do something more involving.