Saturday, October 15, 2011

Like, Totally Bitchin': Nostalgia Movies and Why They Do and Don't Work

Nostalgia is starting to become a huge part of our culture these days and it looks as though that whole "good ole days" bug is starting to leak into our movies as well. After watching Take Me Home Tonight and actually really liking the two main characters, I couldn't really figure out why I couldn't get into the story. Then I realized that it is almost impossible to make a rom com set in the 80's unless it is either: A. Making fun of itself or B. Actually extremely serious.

Unfortunately for the target audiences of the majority of these 80's nostalgia movies, a lot of the material is pretty foreign, unless you happened to watch a lot of I Love the 80's on VH1 back when that was a thing (seriously, after that show, I found The Wedding Singer 50% funnier). Additionally, the 80's, to people that didn't experience them, seem kind of...well...funny. Obnoxious colors, big hair, unflattering mom-waisted jeans and the like are so foreign today that they seem ridiculous. Why do you think 80's parties are so big?

This is where Take Me Home Tonight got it wrong.

Trying to be something along the lines of a lighter Dazed and Confused and a retro Can't Hardly Wait, the movie failed on both areas. Instead of the fun-loving stoners of the 70's or 90's, Take Me Home Tonight featured cocaine as its recreational drug of choice.

Word to the wise: people don't associate coke with fun-loving, they associate it with crazy.

The comic relief of the movie crashed hard amidst physical comedy based around his first use of cocaine. Not only uncomfortable to see a guy look like a moron because he thinks he's on top of the world but throughout the majority of the movie I was waiting for him to form an addiction. Not the fun stuff you want to be fixated on during a romantic comedy.

The other major problem seems to be using actors that were obviously alive during the 80's, even if they were only teenagers. Why did they use 30-year-olds to play high school kids when they were probably in high school (or at least middle school) during the actual 80s? All Hollywood's usual nonsense aside, that was weird.

Despite Take Me Home Tonight's obvious mistakes in its efforts, I will say that there is at least one movie that gets the formula right. If you're going to do the full 80's movie, you have to go balls to the wall.

The Wedding Singer. Filled to the brim with pop culture references, this movie knows how to poke fun at the 80's without losing the integrity of the entire film. Even though everything is realistic-yet-over-the-top, it has enough realism to keep the audience engaged and enough flamboyance to keep the audience entertained.

There are also a good number of movies, though, that have strong references to the 80's without going the full monty, as it were.

Thirteen Going on Thirty is a classic when it comes to 80's references, especially since its from a kid's view. Done in the style of Big but with an added time warp bonus, Thirteen Going on Thirty is a nostalgic 80's movie that ties in the past with the present, which is very interesting. Jenna (Jennifer Garner) thinks of the 80's as cool, bringing back everyone else's memories of what cool was when they were 13 years old. However, this movie never really takes a full leap into the era without coming back directly afterwards and making sure things end in the present.

Hot Tub Time Machine is another recent film that just couldn't go all the way into the 80's but is still hilarious. Despite the main characters retaining their adult facades for each others (and the audience's) sakes, they relive their pasts during a ski trip in the 80's through a magical hot tub. Lots of hilarious over-the-top 80's fashions and a nod towards self ridicule.

But what about option B? The serious 80's movie?

Well, I could only really come up with the cult classic Donnie Darko, whose plot reminds me of psychedelic songs from the late 60's. One wonders why they set it in the 80's? Oh well, still very well done in the style of a period piece and not necessarily a farce.

Unfortunately, I deem it nearly impossible to have a good-humored movie set completely in the 80's unless it has some kind of flash forward where people can be like "Oh my! Did I really wear those leggings? I had crimped hair? What was I thinking!?" Without this kind of a flashback there is really only one of two routes that will do successfully, as film history seems to have proven: either to make fun of the era and go overboard or to dedicate fully to honoring the era and making it a drama. Either way is totally bitchin'.

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