Rated R because it really wants to be an '80s raunchy comedy. There's sex, nudity, cocaine, language, grand theft auto, vomiting, and blood. The odd thing is that, with all that stuff in the movie, it still hedges its bets for a wide audience. I never really felt like I was watching a dirty movie with the exception of one scene. Most of the movie really rides the rom-com train all the way to the station. Regardless, it still has the content. R.
DIRECTOR: Michael Dowse
It really didn't start off so bad. I mean, sure, it was trying pretty hard for its opening gag. But it is a rom-com that has a pretty generic title. If its a rom-com, I was probably watching it to impress my wife. About half-an-hour in, she kind of abandoned ship and just started reading about the movie instead of actually watching it. It's not a great movie. It's actually kind of what I have a problem with when it comes to rom-coms in general. But this one probably has the added problem with the fact that it is seriously suffering from not knowing its intended audience.
I remember trailers for this movie and thought it wouldn't be a bad movie to see. When it completely crashed and burned at the box office, I wasn't going to power through it. I know that I was sold almost entirely by the soundtrack and the '80s vibe. This analysis / critique will be a list of crimes that the movie commits. Some of them will be outright nitpicky. But the thing that bugged me most is that I felt manipulated in this movie. Maybe when director Michael Dowse and the many carryovers from That '70s Show decided to make this movie, some of them probably wanted to return to the '80s staple of the raunchy comedy. I'm sure that the goal, at least at one point in time, was to make Porky's for the new millennium. That's why the movie is set in the '80s. This movie is not that. Again, it has raunchy stuff. I mentioned that in the MPAA section. But without putting too fine a point on it, the movie is really trying to get the widest demographic while also being a little filthy. This leads to the title and the setting. The movie is set in 1988. You can tell because the title of the movie is Take Me Home Tonight, which never actually appears in the move. The movie teases a lot of rad '80s songs. The font screams 1980s as we explore Topher Grace's yearbook. But that's really all that really cements this movie in the '80s. The movie has nothing to do with 1988. It isn't a love letter to the era. It's not locked into this special moment in time. Rather, the setting is just bait for the nostalgia nerd. It plays some good songs. Some people dress a little bit goofy. But there's no reason that this movie couldn't be set in 2007. (It wouldn't be set in 2011 because this movie sat on a shelf when the studio realized it wasn't a great film.) There are some really great nostalgic pastiche films and television shows. Wet Hot American Summer roots itself in the sex comedies of the '80s. Films like Super 8 and TV shows like Stranger Things hearken back to a simpler times when the lack of Internet would leave small towns isolated from the rest of civilization. But Take Me Home Tonight really wants you to ignore its movie and just go see it for the great music and the neon vibe that the font evokes. There are times in the movie where I completely forget that the movie is set in 1988. In fact, we even had a hard time agreeing what year the film is in, thinking that the movie screamed more '90s than anything else. It's a bummer because it all just feels cheap.
The message of this movie is uncomfortable as heck. On a barebones look at the movie, it really is just derivative of lots of other romantic comedies. I don't think that a lot of thought was put forward to the foundation of the story. Overall good guy Matt Franklin, played by too handsome nerd Topher Grace, hasn't gotten his life together. He has the worst problems: he is too smart and has too many options to move on with his life. But he has graduated from MIT and fakes having a job at Goldman Sachs to impress the girl of his dreams. Too bad she works in the same field. I mean, we know the structure of the film. He impresses her time and again, until she finds out that he is lying. There's no issue there. It's pretty cut and dry. Even from a slightly moral attitude, the movie kinda sorta addresses the problems with being stuck in arrested development. But it also just kind of works out for him. The movie does a lot of telling and not showing. I want to contrast Matt Franklin to Cameron Frye. In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Ferris addresses the audience, telling them that Cameron is too tightly wound. But the message of the story isn't constantly bombarding him with reminders of how much of a stick in the mud he is. Instead, Cameron is desperate to impress and have people like him. Through the course of his day, he discovers his own value and learns to let go. When he has his big cathartic moment, he isn't told that he has to let go. He just lets go. Compare this to Matt Franklin. Matt actually seems remarkably well adjusted, considering that his life isn't working that great. But everyone constantly reminds him that he lacks success. When he's lying about having the Goldman Sachs gig, he keeps being reminded that the real world sucks. He knows that he's actually better than the people around him that are putting in the time and effort. It's only after he gets caught and taught a lesson that he agrees to do something with his life. The movie doesn't even give us a firm plan about what he's going to do. It's very light on its moral choices. It knows that it needs a character change for Matt, but what that entails is very loosey goosey. Actually, the only reason that he's actually honest about lying (right?) is that he achieved his goals. He bedded his infatuation and then she said that he was honest. (What irony!) Listen, being stuck in that period of development is a bummer. The problems are real. But I don't think that this movie would give anyone a good kick in the pants to pursue their dreams or to move out of their parents house.
If anything, the movie even muddies its own premise. I'm pretty sure that this is the movie that Chris Pratt and Anna Faris met. I know, I'm raw still too. But he's kind of a dope. He's an innocuous dope for a lot of the film. He proposes and Faris is all thrilled about it until Matt talks her out of it. He kind of craps all over her dreams and she starts seeing this guy through his eyes. Pratt's character is an archetypal jock. He's dumb and gets the girl. His ideas are regressive. But those traits only come out after Matt mentions them to his sister. Is he a bad guy, or is Matt's distaste for Chris Pratt's character coloring Faris's eyes? The thing is, he kind of becomes a bad dude afterwards. This is the problem I have with this. Faris's character is the foil to Matt. They are siblings, but she really kind of has her life together. She's about to get married and she thought that she loved that guy. She has a job. But before she moves onto the next step of her life, committing to a guy that she seems to have cared for for a long time. She's totally right. Matt is acting like he's the doting brother, but he's also putting his own problems on her. She's moving and growing and that all of the sudden becomes a bad thing. Is the film about growing out of those trappings or is it about how we're just going to follow tropes throughout. I mean, Faris gets second billing in this movie and she's not really in it that much. Dan Fogler is in this movie a ton and he gets third billing. Heck, the leading lady of the movie, Teresa Palmer, doesn't even get main billing. So that character has to mean something. Faris has to mean something and she kind of just leaves the movie disillusioned about what is right and what is wrong. Yeah, she smiles a lot because of Matt's successes. But why would she care so much about what Matt went through. In one night, she went from moving in with her boyfriend, to getting engaged, to being rejected by Cambridge and single. Why is she so happy? She wasn't unhappy with her boyfriend. Yeah, he's imperfect, but that's far and away not the same as being awful. They had to awful him up just to make the movie work.
The weirdest thing about this movie: its attitude toward cocaine. I don't think I've ever seen such a pro-cocaine movie. I guess I shouldn't really be the guy writing about this because I'm criminally straight edge. But I've kind of appreciated pro-pot movies because they can be funny. But the attitude that this movie takes towards cocaine is outright funky. Basically, we have the first-time-using-drugs trope. Everything is larger and character let out inhibitions. It's weird, because Barry already seems pretty extroverted and in-character. Yeah, he has some cocaine fueled adventures that may put him off of it. But the movie never actually takes the stance that he made a mistake for taking cocaine. If anything, Michelle Trachtenberg is attracted to to the cocaine-fueled Barry. There's also a scene where Matt just casually wants to use cocaine because he got caught in a lie. The boys agree never to do coke again when they are confronted by Matt's police officer father, but that's not a problem with the cocaine, so much as they are bargaining to not go to jail. I know that the movie ends with the right result, but this movie really makes cocaine look rad. Also, I know that the studio shelved the movie for a couple of years trying to figure out its cocaine problem. But man, it's such a weird choice. I would almost applaud the movie for trying to do something different with a taboo, but it doesn't. It just takes the "accidentally taking acid" trope and applied it to a way scarier drug. At the end of the day, I don't worry about Barry or Matt's life after their brush with cocaine. Also, both of them took it willingly. It's just an odd choice. I don't know why it had to be cocaine. Yes, cocaine is funnier. But the jokes are the exact same as some other drug being used.
I mean, me dunking on Take Me Home Tonight isn't shocking. I would love to be the guy who offered the fresh take that really sold this movie. It is a rom com, but it also wants to be Superbad. It really doesn't do any genre particularly well. The movie suffers from lacking a voice on one thing. Maybe this is an instance of studio pressure trying to market it to everyone, but the movie ends up being a watered down version of all opinions.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.