My dad was never one to let go of something he believed was a “superior technology.” This means that now, in the year 2020, Dad is still the proud owner of a fully functioning Betamax player. Our family home only ever saw a VHS player once the last video rental store in the area to carry Betamax finally gave up this Ghost of Slightly Smaller Cassettes.
I still have a vague memory of the place, with its musty carpet, nearby All-You-Can-Eat Chinese Buffet, and rack of week-long rentals that included my favourite movie of all time (pun intended): Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
We’d journey here weekly and my dad would always tell my sister and I we could pick out one week-long rental. For a months-long stretch, we rented Bill and Ted over and over and over again. Even the jokes that went right over my head I committed to memory. (Freud’s corndog, for instance, I didn’t even notice until someone pointed it out for me at the ripe old age of twenty-six.) I still say, “Strange things must be afoot,” every time I pass a Circle K. I even stole this t-shirt off an ex-boyfriend before giving it back out of guilt:
Needless to say, years have passed and every time I’ve revisited Excellent Adventure, I enjoy it just as much as I did when I was a kid. (Bogus Journey I just never loved as much, so matter how much I wanted to. I’m sorry!) With the exception of a certain slur*, the film holds up remarkably well. The upright joy and utter sincerity of Bill and Ted were always refreshing, no matter how bitter and cynical either myself or the world seemed to be.
Now, my bitter and cynical days are behind me, tossed on the heap of exhaustion caused by rampant hipsterism. I was just done with irony, tbh. A lot of people were sick of snarky, mean-spirited humour and crass “hot-takes” just intended to provoke. It comes from a position of such privilege and entitlement – the cultural equivalent of a relative who vocalizes his observation regarding the sheer size of your thighs and then claims it was a joke… like he’s the Seinfeld of school yard bullies. It’s exhausting. Really. There’s a point where you’re just… done.
So when the announcement came that the third Bill and Ted movie was on its way at long last, I was not alone in my excitement. But then *gestures to the dumpster fire* happened and… a new Bill and Ted became more than a want; it was a need.
Husband and I certainly did not go see it in a theatre. We aren’t crazy people, and, to be honest, I’m not even sure theatres are open in B.C. But we were certainly willing to fork out whatever they demanded in a rental fee. Thirty years I’d waited for this! I have no idea how much my dad paid to that little video rental place over the weeks that time, but I doubt my $20 eclipsed him.
We had the streaming rental of Bill and Ted Face the Music for 48 hours.
We watched it three times.
Yes, Husband watched it with me all three times and that’s how I know it’s true love, baby.
As I started it for the third time, I wondered if this was a silly thing to waste my weekend on, but, well, these are silly times. I’m thirty-six years old and god damn it, I needed to feel like a six-year-old again, just for a few hours.
But the thing is… I didn’t feel like a six-year-old. At least not just. Because the film wasn’t just silly.
As much as I loved seeing Bill and Ted hop into the future to meet the various incarnations of their future selves, my favourite part of the Face the Music was their daughters, Billie and Thea. How perfect Brigitte Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving were aside, after the second and third viewings, I really came to appreciate the thematic nuances of their storyline.
On my first viewing, I wasn’t surprised with the twist that Billie and Ted’s daughters were the ones who wrote the song that saved the world (not to brag, but I, like totally called it after the trailer, when Holland Taylor’s character mentions the song being by “Preston/Logan,” but anyway… yeah *self-satisfied shrug*), but I was surprised at how moved I was by the ending.
Not gonna lie, I definitely teared up at the fact that it didn’t actually matter what the song was, it was the fact that everyone was playing together that saved the world. Christ, I’m tearing up again just thinking about it. In those more bitter and cynical days this would have been written off as cheesy, but fuck those days; it was beautiful.
AND THEN. The closing credits.
The inset clips of people rocking out in their living rooms, yards, parks or wherever while the various world monuments popped back into place… well. I doubt there’s ever going to be a time (at least in the foreseeable future) when various Zoom-like shots of people in their different homes, all over the world, isn’t going to make me emotional. I’ll be a little old lady in the year 2075 when some awards-show bait uses this convention and I’ll be a blubbering mess while my grand-niblings wonder what the hell is wrong with me.
So after the first viewing, the theme was clear: we’re better together. Music is a universal language and our commonalities will unite us.
And yes, these endings and this theme got me again the second and third viewings, but those second and third viewings, I was able to appreciate the nuance of Billie and Thea’s storyline and how it hinted at a deeper, more mature theme. As they travel throughout time to put together a most excellent bad for their dads, what I loved most is how what convinces the different musicians to join is not an explanation of the situation, but the other musicians playing for them.
Louis Armstrong is convinced by a video of Jimi Hendrix playing guitar, while Armstrong in turn plays his trumpet to convince Hendrix. Hendrix then lures in Mozart by playing his guitar along to Mozart’s piano. Mozart then picks up Ling Lun’s flute and plays it to get her on board, and so on. By Bill and Ted also conceding that their daughters are the ones to write the song underscores another theme (or perhaps just adds another facet to the first).
There’s no such thing as a solitary hero. We’re all on the shoulders of giants, so to speak. We are all part of a continuum, a piece in the larger puzzle. Even a rock hero like Jimi Hendrix was beholden to those before him like Louis Armstrong or Mozart. Even a genius like Mozart had Ling Lun before him. Even Ling Lun – the mythical inventor of music – had someone before her.
The idea that enthralled me as a kid – the idea that anyone, even dudes like Bill and Ted, could be a singular hero that save the world – seems childish now. Because it is childish. It takes the egotistical naivete of a child to think that a single person alone can save the world, to think that there could somehow be a single song so perfect and wonderful that it could save humanity.
This is where Face the Music has evolved and matured from the earlier offerings. While recognizing, as the films always have, that the initial premise – Wyld Stallyns music saves the world – is silly, now they have to reckon with that reality (or, face the music, I suppose). This is where they turn a bit of a storytelling conundrum into a opportunity. There’s a truth underlying this all: Bill and Ted can’t save the world. Not alone. No one can. If we’re going to be grown-ups about this, we need to recognize we’re just a part of a larger whole. No one is going to save us; we have to do this ourselves. We’re not heroes, but we can be heroic.
So many people have said that this was the movie we needed right now, and they’re right. But really, we’ve needed it for a long time.
* I will not repeat it here, but if you know the film you know what I’m talking about and I just wanted to point out that even as a kid, that line never worked for me. Hell, I didn’t even know what it meant beyond my mom’s explanation of “it’s not a nice word.” In the context, however, it didn’t work for me because it seemed to suggest that Bill and Ted were embarrassed by showing affection towards each other, which just struck me as out of character. These two bundles of love who obvious deeply care about each other are red-faced at accidentally letting the other know how much they care? Ridiculous.