Take Me Home Tonight is a movie set in the 80s that isn’t really about the 80s. Watch most of the modern Hollywood movies made about the decade and you’ll assume it was a non-stop cavalcade of leg warmers, Tab, and Ronald Reagan. The approach here is more realistic. The 80s weren’t really all that different from the way things are now, a little more colorful maybe, but still a place where young men and women can’t figure out what they’re supposed to be doing with their lives. That and, people really seemed to like Men Without Hats.
Matt Franklin (Topher Grace) seems more confused about what he’s supposed to be doing with himself than most. Recently graduated from MIT, he should be starting his career, but Matt lives with his parents and works at Suncoast Video instead. His friends have all gotten jobs and houses and stuff, and seem to have things figured out, but it’s not long before we discover they’re just as clueless as he is. The difference between Matt and them is that when confronted with this confusion, they all resigned themselves to doing something they hate while he’s stuck in a holding pattern hoping for something better which will probably never come along.
At some point Matt’s going to have to get a real job, but first he bumps into a girl. Tori (Teresa Palmer) was his high school crush and when she walks into Suncoast, Matt wakes up and decides to pursue her that night at a party. With his obligatory fat, funny, recently fired best friend Barry (Dan Fogler) and his twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris) in tow, Matt trudges off to a night of standing around trying to look cool, knowing that he probably doesn’t have a shot with Tori, but determined to do something anyway.
All the big issues Take Me Home Tonight keeps trying to ask about young adults charting a course for the future, unfortunately, never really go anywhere (particularly the parts involving Anna Faris). You won’t care. You won’t care because so much of the rest of it does. Director Michael Dowse work is spot on, not just in setting a pace and tone for this story, but even right down to the little details of the way his movie is shot. This could have been just another throwaway party movie, but he puts in the work to make it look simply stunning. His savvy use of different types of close-up shots amidst the movie’s never ending crowd scenes isn’t just visually appealing, it helps tell the story. Everything about the way this movie looks and moves is perfectly in sync, from contrasting colors to the types of unexpected 80s music used in the soundtrack to set the right beat. Though, somewhat mysteriously, the soundtrack doesn’t include even one rendition of the Eddie Money song from which it takes its name.
Most of all the movie’s carried by Topher Grace and Teresa Palmer who, in addition to being incredibly likable, seem to have real chemistry together. Whenever they’re on screen at the same time, something clicks and Take Me Home Tonight achieves an entirely different level. Dan Fogler, in what seems like his tenth movie playing the crazy, overweight best friend, is by now a cliché, but a cliché used to good effect here. His solution to defeating a superior opponent in a dance battle is not to be missed and his sex scene with ageless Angie Everhart may be the most disturbing series of peccadilloes ever captured on camera in a bathroom.
Part perfect casting and part brilliant directing, Take Me Home Tonight finds a way to overcome some of the obstacles in its way to deliver an R-rated 80s movie that’s more than just another period-piece raunch comedy. It’s a movie so utterly earnest and well-meaning, that no matter what you think about the 80s, it’s hard not to walk out feeling totally rad to the max.