Sunday, March 13, 2011

Keep the Car Running: Thoughts on Take Me Home Tonight

Take Me Home Tonight features ‘80s pop music and multiple shots of the lead character staring wistfully into the distance and lamenting lost opportunities and mistakes made. Usually, those two characteristics alone are enough for me to enjoy a movie. But to my dismay, Take Me Home Tonight is such a sloppy, overlong, morally uncertain misfire that there’s little to appreciate here. The novelty of witnessing Topher Grace’s last performance where he’s still youthful enough to believably play an awkward, insecure post-grad (the film was shot in 2007), is one bright spot, but even that wears thin quickly.

I’m usually willing to overlook questionable behavior whitewashed for the sake of narrative convenience but this film features rampant cocaine use, larceny and driving under the influence without anything approaching real consequence. It features not one but two scenes where it approaches consequence before shying away both times into what is virtually a ‘just kidding, everything’s fine’ timidity. Which is a shame, as one scene – a confrontation between Matt (Grace) and his father, is surprisingly powerful and an example of a degree of intelligence not present throughout the rest of the film. The subsequence scene is so dissonant in terms of tone and integrity, the most generous conclusion is to suggest it’s a product of test audience-induced reshoots.

Another strong scene between Matt and his high school crush (Teresa Palmer) is bracingly honest and suggests a provocative justification of Matt’s initial apprehension and subsequent deceit that the film introduces but later rescinds, less believably.

More damning than its questionable morality and its schizophrenic tonality is how downright sloppy the direction and editing are. The film jumps from shot to shot, lingering on minor characters doing completely inconsequential actions, with such jarring discord that the film borders on the incomprehensible; a bewildering ‘getting ready’ near-montage is particularly painful. Late in the film, after a pivotal scene, we cut back to a pair of characters without any provocation other than having not seen them for the past 20 minutes.

The final insult is when the end credits roll and Atomic Tom’s cover of “Don’t You Want Me Baby” hits. A fine cover and the lyrics actually relate to the film’s themes obliquely, but it also signals the complete absence of the Eddie Money pop classic from which the film derives its title. It would be one thing if the title had an explicit connection to the narrative beyond the evocation of ‘80s nostalgia – but it doesn’t. The absence of the song (a surefire way to alienate its audience) is indicative of the film as a whole and inadvertently sums up the lead character’s plight: the inability to capitalize on potential.