Retro movie review: Wayne’s World

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

Returning to one of the outstanding movies of your young adulthood is not without some risk.

Is it as good as you remember? Have the glasses through you gaze upon it become so deeply and heavily rose-tinted that they filter out even the merest hint of middle-aged criticality? In the case of Wayne’s World, only the second film commissioned from a Saturday Night Live sketch following The Blues Brothers (1980) was it even still funny?

Oh ye of little faith.

Surrounded by ardent fans at a cinema screening recently, a number of whom were channeling their inner Waynes, Garths and neck brace-adorned Stacys, many of whom weren’t alive when the film released in 1992, it became patently obvious that they thought the film retained its stoner-esque, socially-observant sense of the ridiculous and the absurd.

And so, as Wayne (Mike Myers) ushers us into his world of community channel TV in Aurora, Illinois, replete with his extensive collection of hairnets and name badges, it became patently obvious, rather quickly, that Wayne’s World, is as funny now as the day I first saw, yay those many years ago.

Much of that comedic longevity can be sheeted home to the writing team of Mike Myers, Bonnie and Terry Turner (3rd Rock From the Sun, That’s ’70s Show) who managed to turn a sketch into a fully-fledged movie with a reasonably substantial narrative that didn’t collapse under the weight of its central conceit.

Translating films from TV sketch comedy or a TV show even can be a fraught undertaking; what works well in punchy, intense doses often fails to go the distance in lengthier, feature film form.

Sure they roar from the gate, fuelled by fan anticipation and the power of well-wrought and hitherto well-fulfilled premise, but once the one-trick pony has done their thing, events usually trickle to a disappointing middling nothing and you’re left with the realisation that more can so often be less.

 

(image courtesy Paramount Pictures)

 

Not so with Wayne’s World, directed by music documentarian Penelope Spheeris, which managed on its first outing to hold its comedic head high through its 95 minute running time, and remains as humoruously robust 25 years later.

Born from what was reputedly a troubled set where Spheeris and Myers clashed daily – the famous “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene in Wayne’s best friend Garth’s (Dana Carvey) very small car may look like a joyous homage to Queen’s epically operatic song but was in reality the result of great creative fiction between director and star – Wayne’s World manages to land all its jokes effortlessly, even the ones that, on paper at least, should not have worked at all.

Take the moment when television producer Benjamin Oliver (Rob Lowe), who has signed Wayne and Garth to a major TV deal, plucking them from Wayne’s parents’ basement and taking them to a TV studio in Chicago where he plans to commercialise the hell out of Wayne’s passion project, reminds his star that the contract he signed comes with the requirement to spruik the wonders of video game arcades owned by Noah Vanderhoff (Brian Doyle-Murray).

Though he’s admitted to the audience, via the fourth wall-smashing commentary to camera that lends much of the film its air of hilarious intimacy, as if we’re welcome voyeurs on Wayne and Garth’s shared life adventures, that he’d love to earn his living doing Wayne’s World, the idea of selling out the soul of his idea to corporate America doesn’t sit well.

But this being early ’90s comedy, and a damn fine example at that, Wayne bats away his contractual obligations with a series of insanely funny product placements for the likes of Pizza Hut, Doritos and Pepsi, with Garth joining in the anti-capitalist fun with Nuprin painkillers and Reebok.

On one level, it’s all school camp charmingly juvenile but with Myers and Carvey hamming it up, and the artfulness of it all in plain view, the irony of a man who sold his show out for money and fame refusing to play by the rules demanded of that decision, is just very, very funny.

As are the endings, which offer up three alternate versions – a sad, grimly-realistic one that is dispensed with as soon as its finished by a Wayne who laughingly says they’d never end the movie like that, a Scooby Doo ending – the pop culture touchstones are everywhere from Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Gone With the Wind to Bugs Bunny and Laverne & Shirley – where Oliver is revealed as Old Man Withers being evil, complete with “I would’ve gotten away with it too …” catchphrase, and the requisite happy ending where Wayne gets the girl Cassandra (Tia Carrere), she gets a record contract, Garth gets his donut shop dream girl and everything lives pretty much happily ever after.

 

(image courtesy Paramount Pictures)

 

Helping all that humour and the endless catchphrases, which are still repeated today, go a long way, were a bevy of standout guest stars such as Chris Farley, Ed O’Neill, and Alice Cooper (his monologue on the history of Milwaukee is beyond hilarious, nicely contrasting his hard rocker image), all of whom play their small but vital parts beautifully.

Wayne’s World is also immeasurably sped on its comedy classic way by a parodic sensibility that sees it insert an “Oscar clip” into proceedings which nails just about everything that term entails (“But I never learn to read!” cries Wayne plaintively as he tries to win Cassandra back from a devious Oliver) and a “gratuitous sex scene” into proceedings, all with a knowing eye on how odd these cinematic conventions look when taken out of context.

That is perhaps is why Wayne’s World works so well.

It knows its every bit as much a part of the very system it parodies, but figures that since it’s on the inside, why not make merry with the ridiculousness of it all? While you’re at it, why not have some fun with small town dreamers wishing for the bigtime and the inherent disillusionment that sets in when all those starry eyes turn out to be trains rushing down the tunnel at you?

It’s hardly a societal critique of course, and most of the time is more than happy to just have some very silly fun, augmented by some great early ’90s pop rock, a winning sense of the absurd and some of the finest ad libbing committed to film, and maybe make a point or two while it’s at it.

Party time! Excellent! Wayne’s World is all that and more, as funny now in our far more serious times as it was back in 1992 when we all wondered, and with good cause – is Bugs Bunny really sexy in a dress?

 

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