Friday, May 24, 2024

‘Bill & Ted Face The Music’ Is Most Excellent

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Is Bill & Ted Face the Music perfect? No. Do I care? Not in the slightest.

I have no problem telling you that Bill & Ted Face the Music is just as sincere, laid back, and deeply entertaining as its predecessors. Though, I must confess to being one of those who can’t help but break into giggle fits when I hear “So-Crates” or “Mr. The Kid”. I fully admit to being totally in the bag for this movie.

Does it feel at times that Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon’s script gives a couple of the characters short shrift? Yes. Do I think Dean Parisot imbues a sense of earnestness and charm into the movie? Also yes. 

Anyone watching Bill & Ted Face the Music, the third in the series, has likely seen both Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. Though I imagine there are some who will, while having some clue as to what the movies are about, jump in cold. Those people will be fine as will the die-hard fans.

Once again William S. “Bill” Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) are visited by a lone traveler from the future. The traveler, Kelly (Kirsten Schaal) comes with dire warnings of the fate of the world. “The Wyld Stallyns” must ride again.

Bill and Ted must try, still, to write the greatest song ever written. A song that will unite the planets and bring humanity together in perfect harmony. The whole of existence is threatened this time around. This puts even more stress on Bill and Ted who were not handling it all that well to begin with. 

It’s easy to see where Bill & Ted Face the Music is going almost from the get-go. Matheson and Solomon’s script and Parisot’s narrative framing never really try to hide their intentions so much as blithely wink at the audience. Now middle-aged, Bill and Ted both have teenage daughters of their own, Theadora “Thea” Logan (Samara Weaving) and Wilhelmina “Billie” Logan (Brigette Lundy-Paine). 

The opening scene of Bill and Ted Face the Music is a good indicator of how you will feel about the rest of the movie. “The Wyld Stallyns” are playing a wedding. But not just any wedding. It’s the wedding of Ted’s little brother who is marrying Missy (Amy Stoch), who is the ex-step-mother to both Bill and Ted. If you are like me, you might groan and roll your eyes, at that joke.

But if by the time Bill and Ted start playing and you’re not cracking up at Ted’s heinous attempt at jamming on the Theremin or being absolutely charmed by how Billie and Thea are their Dad’s biggest fans; then you might be in for a long movie. I on the other hand was charmed every step of the way.

Parisot understands that what makes Bill and Ted work both as movies and as characters is the underlying sweetness and childlike wonder of both. Winter and Reeves are the Himbos of my generation. Optimistic to the point of being confounding, the two never seem to fail to come out on top even when they fail.

These traits have been passed down to their daughters who seem to have a better grasp of music than their prophetic fathers. Lundy-Paine and Weaving do a wonderful job imitating Winter and Reeves. But they make Thea and Billie individual characters unto themselves. 

Though Weaving’s Thea is given the least to do, she and Lundy-Paine have good chemistry. Both exude the same innocent sweetness as their fathers along with an added encyclopedic knowledge of music that veers into reverence. Bill and Ted believe their music can change the world because they were told so. Thea and Billie believe it because they love and believe in their fathers.

Weaving and Lundy-Paine are so good. I almost wish the movie was structured differently to be more about them. They are so delightful it’s almost kind of infuriating they don’t have more to do.

Bill and Ted’s wives, those totally bodacious princesses Bill and Ted whisked away from the Medieval ages, have signed them up for couples counseling. Their therapist, played by Jillian Bell, seems confused and fascinated by the relationship dynamics. Poor Elizabeth (Erin Hayes) and Joanna (Jayma Mays) seem exasperated by them.

Bill and Ted have always been friends but Elizabeth and Joanna are getting tired of “We love you” more than “I love you”. The wives have a side story where they travel through time trying to figure out which version of Bill and Ted will make them the happiest. But Parisot and the script never quite strike the balance needed to make the story gel with everything else.

Matheson and Solomon try to give everyone something to do but end up undeserving the wives the most. It’s not intentional and may in fact be something that comes down to how the film was edited. Either way, the wives have more to do than in any other Bill & Ted movie but they still feel almost like an afterthought.

Billie and Thea steal Kelly’s time machine to galavant around time to form the greatest band in the world for their Dads. Bill and Ted steal the original phone booth to try and figure out how they wrote the greatest song ever written. The results are mixed.

The scenes with Billie and Thea putting the band together feel perfunctory in some ways. Lundy-Paige and Weaving make it work but we can hear the gears in Matheson and Solomon’s script squeaking. But Bill and Ted continuing to run into douchier and douchier future versions of themselves which somehow never gets old.

At one point Bill and Ted arrive at a mansion, greeted by their future selves-who have apparently finally done it. They have made a success of themselves and written the song of phrophecy. The real Bill and Ted soon realize the house and the song the other Bill and Ted swore they wrote actually belongs to Dave Grohl. We even get the requisite scene of future Bill and Ted taking off wigs and revealing girdles to hold in prodigious guts.

Matheson and Solomon have a knack for finding brilliant humor in the dumbest things. Take Bill and Ted’s escape from future Bill and Ted. In order to get away, they would have to do so in a way that the future versions of themselves would not remember. So when Parisot cuts to Bill and Ted stumbling around with buckets on their head it’s hard not to at least smile at the ingenuity of its silliness.

The Bill and Ted movies were never the greatest films ever made. They were merely the most excellent. This was because despite the shagginess of the movies, Winters, and Reeves, along with Matheson and Solomon’s scripts, there was a goofy love of self and sweetness about them. Bill and Ted were never the brightest crayons in the box but they were also never the meanest or the dullest. 

At one point Bill argues, “Think about our fans dude.” Ted nods. “Bob and Wendy will totally understand. Eileen, we haven’t heard from in several years.”

Over the three movies, Reeves and Winters have been the lone constants, along with the writers Matheson and Solomon. Reeves and Winters have this effortless charm as Bill and Ted. A kind of charm that other actors would destroy by being too over the top but Bill and Ted’s excellence comes from the almost zen-like qualities of Winters and Reeves.

Matheson and Solomon give Bill and Ted a sly wit the duo seem almost unaware of. Their conversations always seem to be slightly smarter than Bill and Ted actually are. “Isn’t that the problem?” “Yes, but it’s also the solution.”

Whatever faults Bill and Ted Face the Music may have it was never enough to wipe off the goofy grin on my face. Hypothetically even if the movie did suck, the scene where Bill, Ted, Billie, Thea, Jimi Hendrix (DazMann Still), Kid Cudi, and a robot from the future sent to kill them named Dennis Caleb McCoy (Anthony Carrigan) all go to Hell is just weird and funny enough to make up for any deficiencies the movie might have.

If that weren’t enough the trip to Hell provides an excellent chance for Bill and Ted to reunite with their old friend and bandmate the Grim Reaper (William Sadler). Anyone who knows me knows I have an almost obsessive love of the supernatural clashing with the mundane. Which is to say the moment in which Bill, Ted, and Death get into an argument arguments, restraining orders, copyrights, and over-inflated egos, I was on cloud nine.

Even better is when Billie and Thea wisely step in and talk Death into rejoining the band. The girls use their history and their sincere love and admiration for his “sick bass skills” to eventually win him over. The way the girls so play to Death’s ego while never outright lying shows they are their fathers’ daughters. It’s also a hint of another version of the movie in which Reeves and Winters had smaller roles – and it’s not a bad glance.

Sadler’s Reaper is so perfect and just plain kooky that it’s endearing. He talks as if every word is a struggle but also somehow manages to never know when to shut up. I am totally here for physical embodiments of metaphysical concepts dealing with social anxiety.

Bill and Ted Face the Music has an unexpected pathos to it. I’m just not sure if it’s because I have literally grown up with these characters or it’s because of the chaotic times we are living through. The climax is hokey, there’s no arguing that, but it worked for me.

I found myself deeply affected by the idea of all of humanity coming together and playing a part of the greatest song ever played. Perhaps it’s the way that, whether meaning to or not-though I suspect they meant to-Parisot and the writers were attempting to show that all art influences other art.

Often I argue that art does not exist in a vacuum. It doesn’t. Part of what that means is that all art, even bad art, has some kind of inherent value. Art is an attempt to make their voice heard and sometimes over the cacophony of the universe, time, and all of humanity. But the attempt is always valiant if rarely successful.

Who knows? Maybe I’m just full of it. An old man trying to justify the swell of emotions inspired by a movie about two time-traveling dudes, their daughters, and their wives, as they search in vain for the song that will bring harmony to the universe. I don’t know.

Bill and Ted Face the Music is not going to solve anything. But it will make you feel good, if only for a little bit. That in of itself is a miracle all its own.

Image courtesy of United Artists Releasing

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