Though by no means a recent phenomenon, the 1980s continue to hold enormous sway over the imaginations of contemporary filmmakers, many of whom grew up during that decade. Whether directors are setting their movies in the age of Reagan (Adventureland), reviving the era’s television staples (The A-Team), or channeling its excesses for parodic effect (MacGruber), the 1980s have become the go-to period for moviemakers looking to cash in on a seemingly inexhaustible nostalgia for all things 25 years out-of-date. Replacing former It decades the ‘50s (surface normality simmering with sinister undercurrents) and ‘60s (hippies, drugs, Vietnam), the ‘80s contain a treasure trove of synth-pop jukebox hits and now laughable fashions ripe for audience fetishization even as the viewer is invited to feel a sense of superiority to the era’s popular culture.
Such is certainly the case with Skateland, one of two recent coming-of-age tales set in the ‘80s about driftless boys on the cusp of adulthood and still living with their parents. The other, Michael Dowse’s Take Me Home Tonight is by far the less nostalgic of the two and easily the more entertaining, partly because it confines the culture referencing largely to the music (and instead of giving us endless recitatives of “Electric Avenue,” it offers up such gems as “Straight Outta Compton” and “Bette Davis Eyes”) and partly because it doesn’t aim to eulogize a whole era without explaining what that era is supposed to mean. Which is to say it takes itself a good deal less seriously than Anthony Burns’s dreary film, even if it’s finally just as beholden to the initiation-into-manhood/rom-com boilerplate.
Topher Grace stars as recent MIT grad Matt Franklin, a man undecided as to career path and temporarily employed at a mall video store, a subject of endless consternation for his parents. Taking place over one long night, the film follows good-guy Matt, his sister Wendy (Anna Faris, playing against type as a smartie), and his foul-mouthed BFF Barry (Dan Fogler) as they attend two parties, snort a not inconsiderable amount of blow, and pursue romantic fulfillment. In Matt’s case, this path to happiness means wooing his high school crush, Tori Frederking (Teresa Palmer, a Kristen Stewart lookalike) by pretending to be in the same line of work as her—Investment banking, the go-to job in the go-go ‘80s—before winning her over with his charms.
But lies never make a good basis for a relationship as Matt soon finds out when his pursuit of Tori conforms rather dispiritingly to the expected success-under-false-premises/confession-of-truth/female-indignation narrative. Basically, Take Me Home Tonight is a half-cocked film about characters realizing their adulthood, buried under layers of raunchy, good-time humor. (In addition to Matt’s through line, Wendy finally grasps what’s completely obvious to everyone at first glance—that her parodically sketched frat-boy boyfriend is an idiot, while Barry’s debauch ends with him considering applying to college.)
These, however, are all revelations that the film treats halfheartedly; essentially this is a movie where boys get to have their fun and then suddenly emerge as men, complete with life lessons and hot girlfriends. (In Matt’s case, the emergence is near-literal, as he exits a symbolic womb after a frattish antic gone wrong.) Not that the journey isn’t occasionally fun while it lasts: Comic highlights include Matt’s dressing down of Tori’s sexist boss at the latter’s posh Beverly Hills mansion and the all too fleeting appearances of the criminally underused Demetri Martin. But ultimately, Take Me Home Tonight is too invested in the diminishing laughs to be found in juvenile behavior—mirrored by the regressiveness of its fondly remembered 1980s setting—to be anything more than another forgettable entry in the already overfilled ranks of middling boys-will-be-boys rib-ticklers.