Topher Grace took time off from his role as Eric Forman in the hugely successful That ’70s Show back in 2004 (you know, that Dennis Quaid movie he totally phoned in on) and left the show in 2007 for a supporting role in Spider-Man 3. Following those two debacles was a role in a small-time, box office disaster of a movie called Take Me Home Tonight, a film completed in 2007 that sat on the shelf for four years because the studio was unsure of how to handle the on-screen drug use. But if my addiction to all movies great and small has taught me anything, it’s that it isn’t always about the Benjamins.
Grace plays Matt, a recent MIT graduate who has yet to choose a path in life, instead earning just enough money to get by as a video store clerk. His sister Wendy (Anna Faris) is in a similar situation, unsure of whether or not to open a letter from Cambridge University, acceptance into which would mean leaving her old life and long-term boyfriend behind. When the twins, along with best friend Barry (Dan Fogler) are invited to a high school reunion/house party, the former sets his sights on teenage crush Tori (Teresa Palmer) while the latter grapples with the choice between her fiancé and an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
As you can probably tell from the synopsis, there’s nothing new going on here. The comedy is hit and miss, but that means little coming from one person, considering the natural subjectivity of what’s funny and what’s not. But, at least for me, the appeal of Take Me Home Tonight was that it did a lot of important things pretty well, despite missing that extra effort in creativity that would have really driven it home.
The performances are solid all round, helped by the fact that each character is given a clear backstory and purpose. Everyone has a fairly well developed arc, and nobody ever acts without motive. This might not be the case for Barry, but because his reason for existence is to serve as the comic relief, I feel an exception can be made for him. Overall, the result is a collection of likeable individuals, and although the end product doesn’t quite match up to the empathy we felt for, say, The Breakfast Club kids, writers Jackie and Jeff Filgo deserve credit for a respectable script and development of each character.
Take Me Home Tonight virtually plays out scene-for-scene in the following manner: A comedic set piece involving Barry getting into all sorts of shenanigans courtesy of his burgeoning love affair with cocaine, cutting to an either serious or socially awkward moment between Matt and Tori. The attempt to recreate what John Hughes did for teen dramedies in the ’80s is obvious, yet it feels real, not forced in just for the sake of paying homage.
What does feel forced is the ending, and the entire final act while we’re at it. Excluding opening and closing credits, the film comes in at a touch above ninety minutes. In the modern age of “bigger is better,” sometimes films with a short runtime are refreshing, but in this case more should have been done to flesh out the ending in a more character-driven way, rather than writing in a series of unlikely events that offer a convenient alls-well-that-ends-well conclusion, lacking in realism and, frankly, a poor reward for those who had developed any sort of interest in the characters.
In retrospect, it even seems unnecessary to have made this film a period piece in the first place, considering the same themes could have just as easily been addressed in a contemporary setting. I suppose it does allow for a fun soundtrack, and maybe it serves to parallel the cultural shift from the “me generation” to the growth of the faceless corporations that shaped the “go-go nineties.” Sounds bleak, doesn’t it? Well, Take Me Home Tonight never gets quite that heavy, so if you like films that are lighthearted, but still convey a message, you might be pleasantly surprised by this one.