Wayne’s World came out in 1992, three years after the release of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure–a film it’s often compared to, naturally, because the two protagonists are metal loving, idiotic valley boys. The two pairs talk similarly, they both have signature air guitar moves, and they both have catchphrases that feature the word “excellent”. I’m not saying Wayne’s World is a ripoff, but I am saying that Bill & Ted is my favorite movie of all time, so it’s hard to watch Wayne’s World without notions of its derivative nature in the back of my mind.
Wayne’s World, as a concept, isn’t from 1992. The film is based on a sketch from Saturday Night Live, which first appeared on the show on February 18, 1989. What’s even weirder? Bill & Ted premiered the very day before that.
The film follows Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and his best friend Garth Algar (Dana Carvey) as they host a public access talk show (Wayne’s World) in Wayne’s parents’ basement outside of Chicago. A slimy big time TV producer (Rob Lowe) discovers the show by accident one day and decides that he’s going to trick the two guys into signing the rights of the show over to him as he adds a ton more “commercial appeal”. Lowe’s motives are never clear, since he obviously doesn’t like the show and doesn’t think either Wayne or Garth have any talent or intelligence. But the people of Chicago love Wayne’s World. Perhaps he’s just capitalizing on something that’s already proven to be successful without him having to do any work.
This is a classic example of the trope where a big network fails to understand the vision of the small creatives, thus ruining a product by making it mainstream. It’s a somewhat underutilized plot that a big time film like this could have brought light to. However, it doesn’t properly punctuate and drive home any of these themes well enough.
I watched Wayne’s World as a kid shortly after my Bill & Ted discovery. I was sorely disappointed. I guess I was hoping for something more along the lines of Bill & Ted. Although the characters are similar, the movies couldn’t be less so. The Wayne’s World story was thin and contrived. l felt that its candid filming style made it a little too disjointed. After all, the movie is mostly a series of non-sequiturs and well-scripted one-liners solely inserted for a laugh here and there. And while it’s a quote-fest, most of the lines never feel natural. They always sound like they’re set up.
However, upon rewatching Wayne’s World, I can now appreciate the film for what it is. I can actually see the beauty in its stream-of-conscious narrative flowing effortlessly throughout most of the runtime. Instead of non-sequiturs, I now see these instances as building up the universe of the film. Characters are introduced that don’t ever need to be included, just to build this world. Another SNL alum, Adam Sandler (not in this movie), would later make a career out of structuring his movies a very similar way.
In my opinion, I was watching a well-crafted piece of cinema this time. Something I decided I simply just didn’t understand as a teenager. But then the last act rolls out and the movie almost completely unravels by abandoning its unique narrative. For the entire film, Wayne’s World stays true to its free-flowing style, but then seems to realize that it’s incapable of ending the movie that very way, resorting to common formulas instead. We get some manufactured drama between Wayne and Garth, as well as between Wayne and his girlfriend. It forced and unnecessary. We were having fun with these characters, and only care about them defeating Rob Lowe–he is, after all, our only needed antagonist.
To make matters worse, the film then proceeds to offset those cliched formulas with actual parody in order to make them fit the tone of the movie, when it actually ends up doing the opposite. Prior to this, the entire film maintained a perfect self-aware satirical tone that tiptoed the line bordering parody without ever quite submitting to that. But the ending here appears to pose too tough of a challenge maintaining that specific tone for the filmmakers that we ultimately get something so irreverent that it makes the rest of the movie feel all for naught–a slap in the face to the audience who’s been along for the ride this entire time.
But through all of this, what keeps us invested in Wayne’s World is these characters–both Wayne and Garth–whom we grow to love over the course of the movie. They’re lovable, down-to-earth, honest, man-children who just want to have a good time. It’s just unfortunate that they don’t get a well-deserved ending.