Everybody Have Fun Tonight, by Tyler Smith
I didn’t have a great deal of time to write this review; only a day and a half. I really should have written the review the day I saw the film, but it had been a long day and I was tired. Plus, I wanted to let the movie soak in and see what I thought in the morning. So, I went to bed. When I woke up today, I thought back on the film, only to realize that I have very little memory of it. Oh sure, there were a couple scenes I remembered, but most of it had just… faded away.
Take Me Home Tonight is just that kind of movie. It’s pleasant enough while you’re watching it -I would even venture to say it’s fun- but is almost totally gone within 24 hours. I’m sure that, within a week, it will be as if I had never seen it. It’s a trifle, a fast food meal meant to keep you going in the middle of the day, but will be forgotten the moment you’re finished. So, what does one say about this movie?
First, the formalities. It is the story of Matt, a man in his mid-twenties in 1988 working at a video store in the mall. His life has no direction, in spite of his having been a brilliant engineering student. The only real motivation that he has- that he’s ever really had- has been to get with his high school crush, Tori. Then, one glorious day, she walks into his video store. He’s working, but pretends to be a fellow customer, stating that he is a bigwig with Goldman Sachs. This gets the woman’s attention and they agree to meet up at a party later that night. The ensuing evening is full of all kinds of mischief and mayhem. Oh, and cocaine. There’s a lot of that.
Our protagonist is played by Topher Grace, and the film is better for it. Even when Grace is playing unlikable characters, he is both charismatic and wry. Here he imbues Matt with a frustrating level of intelligence. He’s just smart enough to know that he’s wasting his potential. This is the perfect type of role for Topher Grace, whose ability to use smiling self deprecation as a way to explore his characters’ inner pain sets him apart from other leading men. The role is written rather flatly (we are shown that Matt is an engineering graduate by his ability to crunch numbers in his head), but Grace finds a way to make a full fledged character where there was none before.
Grace is given solid support from Anna Faris as his twin sister, Dan Fogler as his goofy best friend, Teresa Palmer as the dream girl, Chris Pratt as his sister’s dim-witted boyfriend, Demetri Martin as a disabled high school friend, and Michael Biehn as his frustrated father. Again, sub-par material is elevated by actors that commit to their characters. Pratt creates a character that we are inherently inclined to dislike, but makes him affable and well-meaning. Martin chooses to mix his character’s gung ho, “handi-capable” attitude with just the right amount of contempt for humanity. Biehn is the very essence of a father; supportive at times, but always with an air of authority and world weariness.
In a pretty solid ensemble, specific attention should be paid to both Dan Fogler and Teresa Palmer. This is my first time seeing Fogler. I knew of him as being the star of Balls of Fury and Fanboys. Frankly, I hadn’t heard great things. I, however, found him fascinating to watch. We’ve all seen the obnoxious, overweight, sex-crazed best friend type before. It’s nothing new. But Fogler plays his character with a desperation that makes everything fall into place. The Gordon Gekko wardrobe, the over-the-top personality, the near-obsession with getting laid. Beneath it all, we see the high school loser still trying to gain the respect and affection of his peers. Fogler makes us laugh, but it is not an easy laughter. It was often an uncomfortable laughter, stemming from our knowledge that we are not laughing with this character; we are laughing at him. And he knows this fact all too well.
Teresa Palmer has the unenviable task of playing a character that is supposed to seem unattainable, but is human underneath. This requires that she not stray too far in either direction, lest she become either completely unsympathetic or totally unimpressive. Palmer manages to juggle these two aspects very well, creating a character that we’re not only attracted to, but intrigued by. This is especially important, because we are required to spend the entire film comparing these elements of her character.
So far, the film sounds pretty good, right? I mean, good actors playing mildly interesting characters; a moviegoer could do worse. And, admittedly, there are several points where I laughed. It wasn’t horrible by any stretch of the imagination.
But we’ve seen it all before. We all know that Matt and Tori are going to bond over the course of the evening. So much so, in fact, that Matt is going to reveal that he is, in fact, not a Goldman Sachs employee. She’s going to get very upset (“You lied to me just so you could sleep with me!”), but, don’t worry, Matt will do something to regain her affection. Some might view what I’ve just written as a spoiler; maybe they’ll even get angry at me. But, believe me, there can be no spoilers for this film. I knew that all of this was going to happen about 25 minutes into the film, and I was not disappointed. With so much of the film so unoriginal, it’s no wonder why I find it so very forgettable.
My frustration with the film comes from asking why the filmmakers felt that they didn’t need to make an original film. Topher Grace is certainly not a typical leading man, and the actors involved seemed interested in bringing something new and distinct to their characters. So why not embrace the spirit of the cast and try to do something a little different?
Perhaps the answer comes in the filmmakers’ insistence that the story take place in 1988. There is no particular reason to set the film in this time, with the possible exception being that it is a much bigger deal to have a chance meeting with your high school crush in an age where you can’t just look her up on Facebook. Aside from that, though, it would appear (and has been stated in various interviews) that the filmmakers wanted to produce a movie that was a throwback to all those fun romances of the 1980s. And, in a way, I guess they have. I mean, couldn’t you see a Jon Cryer in the Topher Grace role? And, if this movie were made 25 years ago, there’s no question in my mind that we’d see Curtis Armstrong as the best friend character.
If the whole point was to make a throwback, then so be it. It did a fine job at being an affectionate homage to films that weren’t really that good in the first place. If it were only that, then I’d be content to just forget it and move on. But, in seeing a game cast work hard at making us care, I see the film that might have been; a film about personal uncertainty in an age of excess. Of romance in a time when status meant everything.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. Like so many other films, Take Me Home Tonight is content with a lower ambition goal instead of taking the more challenging- and artistically rewarding- path. Perhaps that’s why I have such a hard time remembering much of the film; because the filmmakers are working so hard to make me forget it.