Most Triumphant, by Bob Connally

30 Aug

It would have been difficult to imagine saying this in 1988 as Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure sat on a shelf, unlikely to be released in theaters, if at all. But 32 years later, we need Bill S. Preston, Esquire (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) more than ever. We need their enthusiasm, we need their positivity, and in a year that has been, “Bogus. Heinous. Most non-triumphant,” we just need something to put a smile on our faces. Moviegoing as we know it has all but ceased to exist completely since March, but thanks to a video on demand release, Bill & Ted Face the Music is here just before the end of summer to give us all an escape from the never-ending nightmare we call 2020.

Bill & Ted Face the Music opens with a montage explaining what has happened to Bill and Ted in the years since we last saw them in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. As the decades have gone by, not only have the “Two Great Ones” not written the song that unites the world, they find themselves writing and performing an experimental piece that simply confounds all of the guests at a family wedding. All of the guests, that is, with the exception of Bill’s 24-year old daughter Thea (Samara Weaving) and Ted’s 24-year old daughter Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine). Only they can see the brilliance behind what their dads (whom they both call “Dads” when addressing them) are creating. Thea and Billie are seemingly as inseparable as their fathers are. Bill and Ted meanwhile, are married to Joanna and Elizabeth, the medieval princesses they met in the first film (now played by Jayma Mays and Erinn Hayes, respectively), with their families living next door to each other. A joint visit to a marriage counselor shows just how attached Bill and Ted remain, and not in a positive way.

25 years since the peak of their fame and creative success, Ted expresses his frustration to Bill and admits he’s considering selling his guitar, ultimately giving up on their supposed destiny. Before that can even sink in however, a space pod shows up in their cul-de-sac. Their old friend Rufus’s daughter Kelly (Kristen Schall) emerges to take them 700 years into the future. There they learn that not only is that future in peril, so is reality itself. Historical figures and objects are disappearing and re-appearing in different time periods. Bill and Ted now have just 77 minutes to write the song that unites the world or else reality itself will be destroyed. As was the case in the first film, they can go to any time and place they wish to in the time they’re given, but, “the clock in San Dimas is always running.” As the guys go into the future to try to obtain the song from their future selves, Kelly returns to our present where Thea and Billie take it upon themselves to help their dads on their own excellent adventure through the past.

After about a decade of trying to get this film off the ground, Bill & Ted Face the Music arrives against all odds at the perfect time. The reason these two characters have endured since 1989 is that their joy is infectious. These two get knocked down a lot but they never stay there. There has always been a sweetness and innocence to their friendship that has carried into their middle age. Considering that I can’t remember a single instance of anyone swearing at any point in this movie, that carries over into the world they inhabit. Winter and Reeves slip into their roles as comfortably as ever. They are not the exact same people we last saw 29 years ago, though at their core they haven’t changed a bit. It all feels right. This is thanks not only to their performances, but due to the fact that the creators of Bill and Ted, Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson have written the screenplay. 

It’s notable as a franchise revival in our modern age, because the idea isn’t to lean heavily on nostalgia, nor is the idea to just do the exact opposite of what the audience might expect and tear everything down. The idea is to tell a story about who these guys are now in a way that the audience will connect with and believe. There’s never a moment where it feels like the movie’s pandering but it doesn’t show contempt for its audience either. This is a shining example of how to make a franchise film that is both creatively satisfying and that will make longtime fans happy. 

Bill & Ted Face the Music is also notable in how often I found myself legitimately laughing out loud. Granted, not every single joke hits, but most of them do and some hit very hard. Typically, even movies that I find very funny, usually I will smile and chuckle, and they’ll maybe get two or three really big laughs out of me. While I didn’t keep count, of course, I can safely say this one made me laugh loudly several times. Director Dean Parisot proved what he could do with a fun, ensemble sci-fi comedy when he made the brilliant Galaxy Quest in 1999. Few directors working today could deliver something on this kind of scale that is as genuinely hilarious as this is.

As Thea and Billie, Weaving (who has proven herself an outstanding comic actress in The Babysitter and Ready or Not) and Lundy-Paine have a nice chemistry of their own and their scenes together feel like a welcome way to break things up rather than an irritating diversion from Bill and Ted’s scenes (though Bill and Ted firmly remain the focus of the film). Still, the movie may have benefited from just a little more time showing the four of them together early on, though that’s probably nothing more than a nitpick and it might have harmed the pacing to add much more to the film’s first act. Thankfully, Thea and Billie aren’t just carbon copies of their dads. While they certainly talk and see the world in a similar way, they’re both smarter and have personalities that are distinct enough to make them their own people. Again, Solomon, Matheson, and Parisot are very smart with their “dumb” comedy. We believe these characters are real in the universe they belong to. 

The rest of the ensemble is fun to watch as well, particularly William Sadler in his return as Death and newcomer to the series Anthony Carrigan (Barry) as robot assassin Dennis Caleb McCoy. Carrigan’s delivery is so funny, particularly in his scenes later in the film, that he becomes the breakout star of Bill & Ted Face the Music. This character also shows how wonderfully creative Solomon and Matheson still are with this little world they’ve made.

Look, we all know what’s going on out there. We’ve got a pandemic, high racial tensions, an economic disaster, murder hornets, we miss our friends, we miss going to the theater, and as if all that isn’t bad enough, it’s an election year too. Ugliness is around and also directly in front of every corner. So if there was ever a time we truly needed something to make us laugh and leave us with a genuinely earned warm feeling and smiles on our faces, this is that time. Bill & Ted Face the Music is the story of two guys trying to unite the world through a song. While no song or movie could ever truly do something so grand as that, this is a film that will brighten your day and might just inspire a few more of us to be excellent to each other. (Stay tuned for the most non-heinous post-credits scene too.) If that’s not worthwhile art then I don’t know what is. 

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