Thursday, September 1, 2011

Take Me Home Tonight (2011)

     Give me a movie filled with music from the 80s and a preposterous, still very high school feel to it, chances are that I will find something to like about it.  I stayed away from Take Me Home Tonight (2011) when it was in the theaters.  I did this in part because I feared that Dan Fogler (playing schlubby best friend Barry Nathan) would give the kind of mannered, loud performance that many comic actors mistakenly believe deliver bigger laughs than the screenwriter's words or director's staging could ever provide, and from his being prominently featured in the advertising campaign – Fogler perhaps best being known for his role in the perpetually delayed Fan Boys (2008ish) was not a recognizable figure in his own right – it seemed appropriate to deduce that his style of performance here is what the studio wanted to highlight.  To be fair, Fogler is asked to play too broadly with some frequency, but there is a real character in the script and Fogler does his best to not have Barry be a one-note joke that doesn't work for the entire movie.
     Teresa Palmer – who I last saw as Becky in The Sorcerer's Apprentice  – shows up here as object of unhealthy fixation Tori Frederking, the really pretty girl that protagonist Matt Franklin (Topher Grace) never had the courage to ask for a date in high school.  Palmer looks a little too model thin (but it is L.A.) and caught between high school and young adult in appearance, but she gives a wonderful all over the place performance.  Just as I would not expect a real 22-23 year old person to have their life in perfect order or have their priorities set, Palmer's Frederking drifts from shallow to sincere, manipulative to vulnerable, supportive to vindictive, and more in such a manner that I found it more than plausible; I found it believable.  Part of that has to be how the role is written, but I was impressed with how Palmer managed to keep me convinced it was the same character making tiny adjustments in her actions – navigating the social scenes as best she saw fit – than changes brought about by some contrivance in the script.
     Most of the cast is strong.  Grace is surprisingly likeable as Matt Franklin, a nerdy man-child (this image is somewhat ruined by sight of bare chested Matt with better than average definition) who is trying to exercise his current emotional demons by defeating one from his past.  Anna Faris – playing Matt's twin sister Wendy – is sharp, but underutilized.  I would have loved for more scenes between Faris and Grace, especially because they played the loving/feuding sibling relationship more true to life than I have seen on screen in a long while.  Chris Pratt (as plot device Kyle Masterson) had his best scene cut from the film – it can be seen in the deleted scenes – but still manages to infuse a level of humanity into his bombastic, controlling, and surprisingly dim character.  Michael Biehn – yes, he's still working! – has a few scenes as Matt's controlling father and tries to make the best of them.  On the other hand, Demitri Martin, Bob Odenkirk, and Michael Ian Black all show up to give performances that they probably viewed as ironic in that they are almost wholly out of place in the film.
     I do want to note that even without the massive delay in the film's release – four years? – the majority of the actors are simply too old for their roles.  Grace especially has scenes where one wonders just how hard Matt had been living while attending MIT.  Fogler, likewise, cannot pull of the appearance of a man (not an everyman-type) who is not in his early thirties at the very least.
     As for the pacing and the plot: The movie gets to the night of the big party far too quickly and once there introduces a score of forgettable characters that would mean something to the characters we are supposed to care about.  Then it jumps to a different party, with little effect other than to allow Matt and Tori to leave it and go off somewhere else by themselves.  Matt and Barry have some car trouble and it turns into an overlong scene involving Matt's father trying to impart some kind of life lesson to him (which he could have done at some point in the boy's previous 22 years).  Then there is the ridiculous conclusion involving a giant metal ball.  Most of the movie goes at a good pace, but the the stumbles come with such regularity that I eventually got used to them.
     Did I enjoy Take Me Home Tonight?  Yes, I guess I did.  It harkened back to the films from the 1980s that my generation supposedly took as some sort of gospel truth as to how the world worked – I remember them as being story driven comedies, or even serio-comedies.  Would I have enjoyed it as much if I had paid full price to see it?  Probably not, though I don't think I would have been angry.  This was a late night movie, and that is where I think it works best – where there is no viable competition of better programming.

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