In The Finally Screenings, Alden Ford is watching comedy classics that, because he grew up in a cave in Alaska, he’s never seen before. These are his takes on movies everyone else has seen before.
Last week I started this column by saying how exciting it is to think that I might see “a film I didn’t know I needed.” I was being hyperbolic, of course, but I really do like the idea of finding a classic comedy that fills some sort of gap - whether it’s simply the context for a quote I’ve heard thousands of times but never understood, or a deeper understanding of the shoulders upon which contemporary comedies stand. I watched Wayne’s World for the first time this week, and it was awesome. But more surprisingly, it really did fill an empty space that, before watching it, I didn’t really know existed.
Wayne’s World is, to my “exqueeze me”-less upbringing, a missing link. It’s the beautiful, solid bridge leading from the promising careers of two great sketch comedians to the wobbly heights of fame and eventual descent into big-budget mediocrity. On one side of the bridge is the hip, unpolished, outer-borough grit of Coffee Talk, Simon, George Bush, and the Church Lady, and on the other side is the self-absorbed, austere Wall Street of Shrek sequels and Master of Disguise.
Mike Meyers is great in this movie. He’s so at ease you’d never suspect it was his first starring film role. Meyers is hilarious, charming, bizarre, and obviously having the time of his life. And strangely, you do actually see glimpses of Austin Powers and Shrek in Wayne. You see the fuse being lit on Meyers’ character-comedy-career rocket all through this movie. And you understand. You want to help light it. This guy is a genius, taking the ridiculous and the earnest and putting them into a truly believable, quirky and appealing everyman - the kind of loveable, dweeby high school friend you actually look forward to running into when you visit your hometown for the holidays.
And Dana Carvey. What a perfect role for him. Every line he has kills. Nothing about his single-expression character or his giggly delivery gets old, and it never feels forced. Even after hearing my friends quote him thousands of times, there’s something in Garth that’s so shy and sweet and childlike and funny that it’s infectious, and it still feels fresh.
Meyers and Carvey in Wayne’s World are the much-needed antidote to John Belushi in Animal House. I know Belushi was a genius. I understand what he did for comedy. And I have seen him in things that still blow me away. But I see Bluto mugging and screaming, trapped in a terrible, now irrelevant movie, and I think, man - that poor guy. What happened to him? What was happening to him? Could this possibly have been him at his best? I was worried watching Wayne’s World would remind me of just how far Meyers and Carvey have fallen, but instead it’s just the opposite. It’s refreshing - and reassuring - to know that at one point, these guys really were at the top of their game, and that it still works. That they were, and are, super funny guys with great instincts and an obvious, contagious love for what they do.
This is also a great example of how to do a sketch movie the right way, something that Saturday Night Live hasn’t been able to do much since. It seems simple enough - take great characters, put them in a larger world, and let them go crazy. But as Night at the Roxbury, Superstar and The Ladies’ Man showed in harrowing detail, that isn’t always enough. You need characters who feel real. You need scenarios only possible in a feature-length format yet fun and surprising enough to feel like their own sketches. The guitar store scene, the “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene, the airport runway scenes - all spot-on and well in service of the film as a whole, but short, easily digestible and perfectly suited to two characters whose friendship and observations are at their best a couple minutes at a time. And when you have those things, you can sustain an hour and a half of screen time and still care about these guys. All the meta stuff works, too - the direct address bits, the well-informed security guard, the Scooby-Doo ending. It’s not particularly surprising these days, but it’s still funny. And Ed O’Neil’s cameo is great.
Not everything works, of course - Tia Carerre is a little flat, and the Rob Lowe/Brian Doyle Murray plot doesn’t make a ton of sense (how exactly is Rob Lowe the villain, again?). “Not!” and “Schwing!” have sadly transcended punchline status and have passed, first from joke to complete ubiquity, then to cliché 90s colloquialism, but those are small gripes. And the stuff that dates the movie - the pervasive midwestern grunge theme and characters, for example - actually play now not as dated pop-culture references, but rather as a tongue-in-cheek love letter to a weird, silly period in music, fashion and hairdos. It lampoons the grunge and heavy-metal slacker era from the inside and without cynicism, but with a full awareness of how strange that subculture was, even in the thick of it.
I really liked Wayne’s World. I’m glad to see it holds up. It’s still a solid sketch film, one of SNL’s best, and an illuminating look at a couple of comedians who, say what one will about them now, really knew how to do their thing with infectious energy and, I’ll say it, depth of character. Mike, you’re a genius. Stop raking in money and get back to your grungy basement roots. Dana, come out from the shadows and do something like this again. You’re both stuck in the financial district, but the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge is still just a few blocks away.