In a few months, seniors at the University will be concluding their college careers and heading off into the “real world” — for some, a question mark still waiting to be filled; for others, a trip into the corporate world of suits and schedules. For every senior, graduating brings up the essential questions for the future: What am I going to do? Who do I want to be?
Actor Topher Grace (“Predators”) wanted to capture that moment — the hopes, fears and ambivalence of life after school — by creating a film that transported it back to another era. The result is “Take Me Home Tonight,” a film he produced and stars in. It’s a look back at ’80s youth films with a modern twist, combining stereotypes and defying others, all the while trying to send a message about the present.
“There’s never been a movie about the ’80s that wasn’t making fun of the ’80s,” Grace said in a roundtable interview, alongside co-star Demetri Martin (TV’s “Important Things with Demetri Martin”). “We wanted to take advantage of that because there’s kind of one opportunity to do it.”
The film follows Matt Franklin (Grace), a recent MIT grad working in his hometown video store and contemplating the onset of adulthood. He surrounds himself with best friend Barry (Dan Fogler, “Taking Woodstock”) and twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris, “The House Bunny”) as he tries to break out of his former identity and win over his high school crush in one raucous night.
Capturing the culture of the 1980s was integral to the production, from the music to the costume design, but aside from the simple elements, Grace also wanted to go beyond what previous retrospective films have done.
“We really wanted to make it more the conventions of ’80s films, you know, like stealing a car, chasing a girl,” he said. “But then we wanted to subvert those conventions halfway through the film … we wanted it to be really of the ’80s, but then be its own creature too.
“A lot of these movies today are all raunchy or all romantic or all drama or all comedic,” he continued. “We wanted one that was like those John Hughes movies that had everything.”
Grace also looked beyond the ’80s to past youth films for cues on how to position his own. Among others, he looked at films set in the youth culture of previous decades but poised to apply to their own present — specifically “Dazed and Confused,” which was made in the 1990s but based in the 1970s, and “American Graffiti,” which was made in the 1970s but based in the 1950s.
“What we really wanted to do was have a modern-day protagonist, which “Dazed and Confused” and “American Graffiti” both had — someone dealing with today’s issues but in this other time,” he said.
One of those issues in the film is whether or not Matt — a math whiz — should use his talents in a corporate finance job, or do something more risky with his life. Demetri Martin makes a cameo appearance as Carlos, one of Matt’s high school friends who took the former route.
“The problem (for Matt) is, he’s afraid to make a mistake,” Martin said. “He’s afraid to make a wrong move. There’s sort of a weird cage you can end up in if you’re too perfect, like you’re winning at life on paper but then the paper kind of runs out. So what are you left with?”
While Martin is perhaps a better judge of adulthood in the ’80s than Grace (he is 37, versus Grace’s 32), he also finds “Take Me Home Tonight” has a timeless message for the college-age group.
“It doesn’t matter so much what time period it actually takes place in, but it’s more what it says about our experience as people,” he said. “I like this one because it looks at that time when you’ve left that kind of structured world that’s set up for you … You kind of have to step up and get on with it and figure out — okay, what’s my point? What am I going to do?”
The film boasts a young cast of stars who each bring their unique style to the production. Actors like Martin, Fogler, Faris, Teresa Palmer (“I Am Number Four”), Chris Pratt (TV’s “Parks and Recreation”) and Michelle Trachtenberg (“Cop Out”) are still on the front end of their film careers.
“I really think there are five 20-million dollar actors in this movie, just in the year 2019,” Grace said. “Everybody will look back and go, ‘Man, they were all in that movie.’ ”