Directed by Dean Parisot
Written by Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon
Starring Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, William Sadler, Hal Landon, Jr., Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Kid Cudi, Beck Bennett, Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays, Holland Taylor, Kirsten Schaal, Jillian Bell, Anthony Carrigan and Amy Stoch
The Bill & Ted films have long been a part of my life, and indeed a part of whatever The Empty Theatre has been. I used “Be Excellent To Each Other” as a sign off for the brief video series I produced. #BETEO has been my own personal hashtag in all my socials for almost four years. I went into Face The Music with equal parts excitement and caution. But in the midst of the career renaissance Keanu is having (Keanussance?), and with all the other madness of the world, this was the right film at the right time.
It’s certainly not the first unassuming comedy to dig deeper beyond its surface level jokes to find meaning in ageing. My gut reaction as the credits rolled was to compare it favourably to Kevin Smith’s Clerks II or Edgar Wright’s The World’s End. Both those films balanced their particular styles of comedy with the careful thoughtfulness of writers staring down their own mortality. Face The Music stands among them as their equal. Two guys who were supposed to change the world, but here they are over 50, and not a damn thing has happened.
The greatest trick the Bill & Ted films have continuously pulled over the past 30+ years is to be far smarter and more clever than they let on. Their Excellent Adventure was a wonderful examination of destiny. Their Bogus Journey is a rumination on death itself. But in Face The Music? What’s the timeline on accomplishment? What is the legacy you leave? Who are the people who love you?
By packaging these grand themes in a sci-fi comedy trilogy, it’s a sneak attack. You don’t realize you’re engaging in some of these deeper themes because you’re too busy giggling at Socrates and Billy the Kid chewing bubble gum, or Jimi Hendrix sharing the stage with Ling Lun.
Keanu has obviously gone on to be one of the biggest movie stars, and most breathtaking human beings, in the world since his early days as Ted, while Alex Winter has moved behind the camera working as a documentarian, most recently helming the HBO Original documentary Showbiz Kids. But they step back into these roles with ease, and their age and experiences only help them. It’s not that these guys, Bill & Ted, are in a state of arrested development, teens who refused to grow or mature. It’s that they were supposed to unite the world. Knowing that, how can they move on, how can they grow, until they do? That’s where they are in their mindset.
I didn’t walk away from it laughing at the underachieving slackers. I walked away sympathizing with the struggle to succeed. There’s a whole psychology behind kids who were raised to believe they were gifted (and for most, they probably were in certain regards), and then underachieve as adults, and it leads to massive depression. That’s what I’m seeing in Bill & Ted. Their inability to achieve, despite knowing they will, has spiraled them out. They can’t move on or “grow up” until they achieve what they’re supposed to.
In referencing past films and characters, particularly the late George Carlin’s Rufus, they managed to be reverent, but never strayed into wink & nod territory, which can be groan inducing. Writers Solomon and Matheson were fully dedicated to making Bill & Ted Face The Music its own film that could stand on its own two feet without needing the previous films as a referential crutch. I mean… you still need to see the first two to fully follow the plot, but it isn’t just 90 minutes of callbacks.
Bill & Ted are deeply personal films to me, so maybe that’s clouding my judgement, but this is one of my favourite films of the year, definitely made me feel feelings in all the right ways. And I can’t recommend this one enough. Definitely check this one out.
And as always… be excellent to each other, dudes.