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Take Me Home Tonight

It is modern cinema's version of Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. A super-intelligent but physically weak and unimposing young man ventures into the night – the deep dark woods of the urban jungle, if you will – to return in the morning a changed man. In the process he has learned something about himself and life, having visited both Athena and Aphrodite, sometimes in the same personage.

In short, he has gotten some.

The worst of these littered the video store shelves when there were such things, and now languish on the back pages of Hulu. The best of these turn out to be surprises. Like their protagonists, they are smart but imperfect, and in hindsight you realize it was pleasant to spend time with them. So it is with the Topher Grace-inspired Take Me Home Tonight.

Grace conceived the story, executive-produced and stars in the movie, on the surface a run of the mill coming of age tale that we've seen scores of times going back to when Mickey Rooney was as well known as Charlie Sheen. But though the spine is familiar, it's the details that make it seem comfortable instead of stale.

Set at the bonfire of the vanities (1987? 1988?), Take Me Home Tonight begins with Grace as Matt Franklin, an MIT graduate terrified of his potential and thus dedicated to not doing anything with it. He hangs out with Barry (Dan Fogler), a guy who chose the slick route of car salesman instead of college. Together they disdain where the culture is going, but also feel clueless as to how they could tag along.

Matt has a twin sister, Wendy (Anna Faris), who claims to have it much more together. Secretly, she's just as scared of the future, unsure of her own talent as a writer and willing to settle for a life as the wife of handsome but dumb trust fund baby Kyle (Chris Pratt).

The ball gets rolling when Matt's high school crush Tori (Teresa Palmer) shows up at the Suncoast Video where he works, and he pretends that he actually works for Goldman-Sachs (this movie was shot four years ago, when being the poster child for corporate greed still had some cachet).

Now Matt has to work to keep up the charade long enough to get to Kyle's last Labor Day party, bop along to some great tunes from when MTV was MTV, and somehow land the girl of his dreams.

Though Grace came up with the idea, it's the script by Jackie Filgo and Jeff Filgo that fill out the actor's charm. Though the movie certainly dips into raunch – it earns its R-rating in a good-natured way – it's got a lot of heart and sincerity to it.

It would be easy for Farris' character to be the stereotypical sister antagonist, but their sibling relationship is written quite believably, and with actual affection underlying their jabs at each other. They care; they want the other to succeed, and both are struggling to get past their own fears. Let's face it: no matter what age you are, the future can be pretty scary.

Fogler's character never rises above the stereotypical heavy-set sidekick role, but the actor's schtick works well to get laughs. He's also just charming enough an actor to make it believable that Michelle Trachtenberg's disillusioned goth would find him strangely magnetic.

The long black hair and shiny black lipstick is just one more detail in evoking the era without winking at it. The production design acknowledges that looking back at this time has a lot of "what were we thinking?" built into it, but the laughs come from characters, not from fashions that people at the time thought were cool.

Most welcome is one of the coolest actors of the eighties, Michael Biehn, playing the twins' LAPD officer father. Angie Everhart also pops up and, well, time has been good to her.

And Director Michael Douse has been good to this movie. Though most of his previous experience was in television, that influence only shows up in a couple of shots. He makes powerful use of montage in a party scene that puts this a cut above the average coming of age comedy.

Overall, Take Me Home Tonight is full of pleasant surprises. Farris plays suffering intelligentsia just as effectively as she plays dumb blonde. Grace is better than his sitcom roots. And holy cow, you might discover that you miss the eighties.

Take Me Home Tonight (soundtrack album)

Derek McCaw

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