— A word of warning to the millennial generation: One day, decades from now, someone’s going to make a comedy set in the early 2010s, and it will feature a ridiculous mash-up of conflicting trends — a flash mob of Lady Gaga lookalikes bedecked in Silly Bandz lip-synching to Justin Bieber’s “Baby” at an Apple Store where throngs are lined up to buy the new iPad 5.0.
At least, that’s the sort of overdone, culture-clashing combo you can expect if the recent crop of movies and TV shows set in the 1980s are any indication. Whether it’s with satirical intent or out of sheer laziness, these recent-period period pieces tend to go for exaggeration and selective memory.
With “Take Me Home Tonight,” opening March 4, a raucous comedy set during one wild night in 1988, heading to theaters, be on the lookout for the things that no movie set in the Reagan/Bush era can apparently be without.
The house-wrecking party
It’s the blowout of all blowouts, where the good china gets shattered, someone’s Moped does donuts in the entry foyer, and everyone winds up in the pool with their clothes on. The bacchanalian soirée was a staple of movies actually made during the 1980s — “Sixteen Candles,” “Risky Business,” and “Weird Science” all indulged in every homeowner’s worst nightmare — so it’s not surprising that contemporary films set during that era tend to fall back on this cliché.
Parachute pants for everyone
As a child of the 1980s myself, I feel like it’s my duty to point out that I often went for days, weeks even, without seeing someone wearing parachute pants or the Michael Jackson “Thriller” jacket or headbands or spiked belts. But if your only awareness of the 1980s comes from movies like “Hot Tub Time Machine” or “The Wedding Singer,” you’ll be forgiven for thinking that every teenager wore all of those things, every day, for the entire decade. (As for giant, blown-out hair that was moussed within an inch of its life? OK, fair enough, that was pretty common.)
Gigantic cell phones
Cell phones used to be the size of a brick! And they had antennas! And people carried them around in their own separate briefcase! Or mounted them in their cars! Isn’t that hilarious? Admittedly, yes, it was funny in “American Psycho.” And in last year’s “Wall Street 2,” when Gordon Gekko is given his enormous phone back when he’s being let out of prison. But otherwise, enough already.
We have always listened to The Smiths
Here’s the one that’s really annoying: If you were a teenager in the 1980s, and you were listening to what was then known as college rock, then there was a cultural price to pay. The popular people were not blasting New Order and XTC at their wild weekend parties. They were listening to Mr. Mister and Starship and Huey Lewis and the News and Lionel Richie and Phil Collins. Maybe, if they were a little daring, Prince.
They were not, however, listening to Elvis Costello or R.E.M. or Violent Femmes or any of the actually awesome 1980s music you so often hear in these retro movies and buy on their soundtracks. You know who was listening to that stuff back then? The music supervisors of these movies — if they were even alive then — and they were most likely not invited to the cheerleader party. So it’s a little annoying to see the chowderheads who wouldn’t have been caught dead at a Depeche Mode concert pre-“Personal Jesus” suddenly getting great musical taste in retrospect.
And before you bring up John Hughes: the whole point of “Pretty in Pink” and its amazing soundtrack was the fact that outsiders like the characters played by Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer listened to that kind of music — and that doing so made them seem so “weird” to the James Spaders of the world.
What year is it again?
You’d be annoyed if a movie set in 2002 featured one of the songs from “Glee,” right? Yet many of the directors of these films treat “the 80s” as this amorphous blob where anything goes so long as it happened within the decade. Catchphrases from late-’80s movies turn up in films set in the early part of the decade for instance, and automotive, fashion and musical selections wind up being a free-for-all as well.
My personal favorite example of this comes in the Mariah Carey debacle “Glitter,” which is set in 1983. First, Carey’s character Billie Frank covers “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On,” which wasn’t released until 1984. Then she has a big hit with “Loverboy,” which samples the Cameo song “Candy,” which didn’t come out until 1987.
So if “Take Me Home Tonight” winds up including footage of the Berlin Wall coming down and jokes about Monica Lewinsky, don’t be too shocked.