Topher Grace, the young star of the long-running TV comedy “That 70s Show,” jumps forward a decade with “Take Me Home Tonight.” He and his long-time friend and production partner Gordon Kaywin came up with the idea for the movie, about a recent college grad who’s trying to “find himself” in a dead-end job at a video store when he bumps into the girl he had a crush on in high school and goes off on a mad night of partying to win her. His free-wheeling best friend, his policeman father, and his twin sister all get involved in his quest. And the action is set in 1988.
“I was ten when the movie takes place,” Grace said during a Dallas interview in an old-fashioned DVD store, where some VHS tapes were still to be found on the shelves. “But I have some memories if what pop culture was, and hopefully for people my age and older, it really takes them back to that time. And for people much younger, it’s a real introduction to that stuff. ‘American Graffiti’ was the one in the seventies about the fifties and very early sixties, and ‘Dazed and Confused’ was the one that I grew up with in high school and college in the nineties about the seventies. We thought that no one had done this really ripe period of time—people had made fun of it, they’d spoofed it, like ‘The Wedding Singer’ (which I love). But about twenty years out, you can really see something for what it is, and we wanted the movie to be not a spoof, but like it was made in the eighties—that it could literally have been in a vault and we just dusted it off.
“No one had made a film for this generation—not the generation of the film, but the generation that’s watching movies now—that looks back twenty years. We wanted to say, this is what it was, this is what it was like to live there. And we thought it should be about a protagonist who’s more of this time, who’d flourish more now, but he’s stuck in the go-go eighties. There’s a real juxtaposition there. You graduate college and structure’s kind of over, and you have to go out into the world. He’s a bright guy—it’s not that he’s not smart—but the worst thing for that character to do in the eighties, when everyone’s got their stuff together and making millions of dollars, [is to be stuck].”
Another inspiration for the picture, co-written by the team of Jackie and Jeff Filgo (who wrote for “That 70s Show”), was the high-school movies of John Hughes like “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club”—shown by mention of the fact that the characters are supposed to have gone to Shermer High, the school the kids in the Hughes films attended. “Not all the people will get that, but it’s my favorite thing,” Grace noted. “‘Shermer’ was kind of the zone we wanted to be in for the movie.” But though there are other references to Hughes’s movies in “Take Me Home Tonight,” Grace emphasized that they’re intended to be subtle to avoid seeming too spoofish.
Grace was especially enthusiastic about his co-stars—Teresa Palmer as the girl of his dreams, Anna Faris as his sister, Dan Fogler as his best pal, Chris Pratt as his sister’s boyfriend, as well as stand-up stars Michael Ian Black and Demetri Martin in smaller parts. “The real reason we wanted to do one of those ‘American Graffiti,’ ‘Dazed and Confused’ movies was that you look at them, and they have these insane casts,” he said. “You’ve got five twenty million dollar actors before they became twenty million dollar actors. And I think there are four or five future twenty million dollar artists [here]—sadly, I’m probably not one of them. They all added stuff [by improvisation], but we had a really great script to start off with.
“My favorite part was the cast,” Grace added. “The John Hughes movies were really cast-dependent. There aren’t that many opportunities like that for actors my age now. And everyone really appreciated it. We shot at an IHOP at 6am, and I’m sitting there and Dan Fogler and Demetri Martin are doing a bit, and I go, these are going to be the greatest people of their generation at this, and I got to be here at the beginning. I loved doing a movie with Richard Gere, and working with Dennis Quaid was great—I love working with people that I can really learn from. But there’s something so wonderful about working with the future greats.”
Another important aspect of the movie is its soundtrack of period songs. But Grace emphasized that they’re used in a special way. “We wanted it to be kind of a musical—though it’s not—but we did want it to be like a musical in that the music is, like, of the movie, it’s not just laid over the movie. We wanted to have this great cross-section of eighties hits, for it to tell the story and not just be laid over it.”
“Take Me Home Tonight” was shot some time ago, but its release was delayed by studio concerns. “When we originally screened it, it went great—it tested really well, it’s a great audience film,” Grace recalled. “But there was a real sense of nervousness about the cocaine use, and they said, ‘Could we cut that out?’ And I said, you can’t make a film about prohibition without showing alcohol. And Ron Howard and Brian Grazer said, let’s not change it, keep it as is. And luckily Ryan Kavanaugh, who runs Relativity, the studio that’s putting it out, saw it, and he’s about thirty or forty years younger than a lot of the other studio heads in town—that’s what makes him different from them. [He understood that] you can’t make an R-rated movie without being about a slice of life, without being really true to what was happening, good and bad, and there are some wonderful things that happened that night, and some terrible things that happened, and—it was great—he saw it and said, ‘I think this should have a huge release,’ and really believed in it. And so although it was held, it wasn’t like the normal situation when things get held—which is that it’s been cut and changed. This is everything our vision was—we got to put everything back in, basically. I’m so thankful, I’ve got to knock wood every time I talk about this—that someone came along and understood it for what it was.
“And that’s why I’m so happy to be doing this press tour,” Grace explained.