This is the movie John Cusack never made, a loving tribute to the 1980’s and especially to the music and movies of the era from “Say Anything” to “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” “Take Me Home Tonight” doesn’t go for cheap “had we but known” or “how could we be so cheesy/wear that/like them?” jokes (I’m talking to you, Hot Tub Time Machine) but instead relies on our nostalgia for the 80’s and for what we did to muddle through them. It takes us home to “I Love the 80’s” land with the opening shot: “Video Killed the Radio Star” played on an enormous boom box.
Twins Matt (Topher Grace) and Wendy (Anna Faris) Franklin have recently graduated from college and are still living at home. Wendy is on the brink of the next step, with a serious boyfriend (her real-life husband Chris Pratt) and applications to graduate school. But Matt seems stuck. He has a job behind the counter at Suncoast Video. And he is still dreaming of the girl he had a crush on in high school, golden girl Tori Frederking (Teresa Palmer). If only, Matt tells Wendy and his best friend Barry (Dan Fogler) so often that they recite it along with him — if only there had been an opening for him to pursue her back at Shermer High School (yes, the name comes from “The Breakfast Club”). And then, Tori walks into the store.
In a spasm of fear, desperation, and longing, Matt impulsively tries to act like the kind of person he thinks would impress Tori. He pretends not to remember her. And, when he finds out she’s working for the (now-defunct) financial firm Drexel Burnham, he pretends to be working at Goldman Sachs. They agree to meet up at a big party, cuing up all of the ingredients for a very wild night.
It has shoulder pads for girls and blazer sleeves pushed up to the elbow for guys, “Come on Eileen,” Wang Chung, and “Straight Outta Compton” (sung by Matt and Barry as they steal a car to impress Tori) and a trampoline scene like Tom Hanks and Elizabeth Perkins in “Big.” It’s all with such unabashed affection for the era and its characters that it is hard not to share it.
Grace, who produced the film, is one of Hollywood’s most likable leading men with comic timing unmatched since (while we’re talking about the 80’s) Michael J. Fox. The scene where Matt thinks the worst has happened, only to find that more bad news is ahead, works far better than it has any right to. As Matt’s unconstrained id counterpart, Tony-winner Dan Fogler spends a lot of time out of control (and some of it coked out as well), but he manages to give Barry some sweetness, too, whether competing in an impromptu dance-off or mingling lust and terror at an invitation from what 20 years later would be called a cougar. Faris is underused but a pleasure to watch as always and Palmer brings a pleasant freshness and decency to the underwritten dream girl role. It won’t make anyone want to go back to the 80’s, but it might make them want to see Grace’s next film.