Is Wayne’s World Still Excellent 25 Years Later?

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Mike Myers and Tia Carrere in Wayne’s World. Photo: Paramount Pictures

Unlike most fans of Saturday Night Love, rock music, or people who enjoy iconic Hollywood comedies, Mike Myers has never seen Wayne’s World. “I’ve seen parts of it on TV,” Myers admits, speaking on the phone just a few days before the movie that made him a comedy superstar will return to theaters to mark its 25th anniversary. “I haven’t watched it start to finish ever.”

Depending on when he’s last seen any of it, he might be in for a surprise. If classic movies — and Wayne’s World is indisputably a comedy classic — are timeless, it’s surprising how much Myers’s movie, which he co-wrote, also feels like a window into a vastly different moment in the culture, and one that, despite all the lingering ’90s nostalgia, feels even further away than 1992 sounds.

Part of the reason for that, explains Myers, now 53, whose movie was based on his and Dana Carvey’s SNL suburban hesher cable-access TV show host characters Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar, was by design. “One of the big influences on the film was Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” Myers says. “Where you had a fully grown man playing a teenager in the ’80s but there was this strange ’50s overlay — it was a heightened reality. We were trying to go for a heightened-reality version of the suburban heavy-metal experience.”

They got that, for sure. One of the movie’s undying charms is the little true-to-life details: the driving around aimlessly in crummy cars listening to loud music; the post-classic-era Black Sabbath T-shirts; the characters’ continual repetition of in jokes (“Not!”; “No way!” “Way!”) like they’re evidence of membership in a secret club. You can tell the filmmakers — and here you have to unleash your shaggy mane and tip your baseball cap to director Penelope Spheeris, whose The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years is a foundational rock documentary — truly know and love their characters’ milieu. But now, 25 years later, Wayne’s World radiates a different kind of love, too. It scans as a fond farewell to a very specific form of white-guy culture.

Post–Wayne’s World, rock movies have been almost exclusively nostalgic (Almost Famous) or made a point out of how out of step their heroes are (School of Rock). Not Wayne’s World. Though Myers says he was “shocked there were still kids with Led Zeppelin ZoSo symbols on their denim jackets in the early ’90s,” the movie — which remains very funny — doesn’t actually register any of that shock. There’s no winking at Wayne and Garth’s devotion to rawk. These guys spend their time seeing metal shows at Aurora, Illinois’ rock club, they lust after drums and guitars, they plotz because they’re given tickets to an Alice Cooper concert — a ’90s Alice Cooper concert. (Cooper’s backstage disquisition on Milwaukee is one of the movie’s best scenes.) Watching Wayne’s World in 1992, you could still sort of suspend the nagging feeling Wayne and Garth were anachronistic relics. You can’t anymore.

A quick, Wayne’s World–style digression: The movie’s plot involves Wayne and Garth wrestling with how to avoid “selling out” to a slick TV producer played by Rob Lowe, demonstrating, for the first time, his comedic skills. (And delivering a very Chris Traeger-esque “literally.”) But then in this playfully post-modern film’s “megahappy ending” — which follows the “sad ending” and the “Scooby-Doo ending” — Cassandra’s band, Crucial Taunt, triumphs by signing a record deal offered by a businessman wearing a suit and smoking a big cigar named Frankie Sharpe. Oily TV business people bad; oily music business people good? Guess so. But you know what’s not-at-all confusing? The batty intensity of Ed O’Neill’s mini-monologues at Mikita’s donut shop.

Wayne’s World shows its age in other ways too. This movie is not great to its two women characters. One of them, Stacy, gamely played by Lara Flynn Boyle, is Wayne’s lunatic stalker (“a psycho hose beast”). The other, Wayne’s love interest Cassandra, played by Tia Carrere, is an adolescent fantasy. She’s model-gorgeous, fronts a rock band while wearing white lace panty hose, and, for good measure, knows kung fu. (“I just think she’s kick-ass,” says Carrere. “I usually cringe when I see myself onscreen, but not with Wayne’s World.”) Elsewhere in the movie, the otherwise timid Garth gives the following skeevy advice about women: “They want you to come get them,” he leers. “They love it.”

So yes, Wayne’s World is decidedly not woke, though it’s hard to imagine who might’ve seriously expected it to be. And as Myers points out, the movie’s POV is intentionally juvenile. “I think you have to understand that the movie is from the perspective of two young boys of indeterminate age,” he says. “It’s a silly, fun movie.” Carrere, who says she modeled some of her character’s swaggering physicality on Spheeris, is even more blunt. “If you have a sense of humor, the movie is great,” she says. “If you’re on the 2017 PC patrol, it might not be.”

Of course, cultural patrols of various sorts are far more common now then they were in 1992 — never mind the fact that all our entertainment is arriving at a moment where words like “Constitutional crisis” and “fascism” hang menacingly in the air. There’s a blithe disregard for the wider culture, a giddy myopia to Wayne’s World that would be almost impossible for Myers and Spheeris to replicate 25 years later, and it might even make them seem troublingly disengaged if they tried to.

Myers, for one, isn’t sure how, exactly, comedians should be moving forward, let alone how Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar would fit in today. “Lorne Michaels has a great formulation,” he says. “Which is that comedy sits at the children’s table and is very happy to. Del Close, the famous comedy teacher, said that comedy needs to almost be above politics while also being in politics. It’s a strange maglev of engagement and nonengagement.” Myers pauses. “You know, a lot of satire has taken aim at controversial public figures through the years, and often what ends up changing political regimes isn’t the satire, it’s the Liberty ship, supply chain, the six-pound cannon, and the B-25.”

This is where a discussion about Wayne’s World wound up. 1992 was a long time ago, wasn’t it?

Is Wayne’s World Still Excellent 25 Years Later?