The Sunday night before Thanksgiving, a musician buddy and his wife came over to watch Bill & Ted Face the Music (which I picked up for $0.40 on RedBox thanks to a generous coupon). It was easily the most enjoyable, wholesome flick I’ve seen in awhile—and it’s not just because my friend brought pizza.
Bill & Ted Face the Music was released earlier this year, during that tantalizingly brief moment when theaters were making a go of it again. It’s a shame it wasn’t released in more auspicious times, because it really is a film worth seeing. Indeed, like the franchise it revives, it’s a rare instance of good-natured, fun, and optimistic storytelling at a time when brooding anti-heroes and even villains are the celebrated norm.
One could certainly point to the idea of reviving Bill & Ted as yet another example of Hollywood’s dearth of new ideas, but it really is the perfect property to bring back with another sequel: the very franchise revels in goofy send-ups of time travel tropes and late-80s popular culture. It does so in a way that is sweet and endearing, even innocent—never mocking, except in the lightest and most loving of ways.
The basic story picks up after the events of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and its sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. Fans will recall that Bill & Ted’s band, the Wyld Stallions, is destined to unite the world in song and harmony—which is repeated constantly in the movie. The story picks up some thirty years later, and our titular heroes still haven’t managed to write that elusive song, despite multiple failed attempts.
The movie reviews the band’s repeated failures, along with critics’ reviews reminiscent of those from This is Spinal Tap. Indeed, it kicks off with the pair playing their latest song at a brother’s wedding to their former babysitter/mutual stepmother—a piece full of throat singing and theremin. The two clearly lost their way in the intervening decades, going from playing a concert in the Grand Canyon to playing for forty people at the Elk’s Lodge on Taco Tuesday.
But Bill and Ted have two lovable, music-obsessed daughters, both twenty-four-year old slackers following in their fathers’ footsteps. Their knowledge of music history is intense and deep, going from ancient Chinese flutists to Mozart to Hendrix and beyond. It takes the characters a long time to catch on this fact, but it’s clear from the get-go that it will be these two young ladies that fulfill Rufus’s prophecy.
The movie repeats the time-traveling antics of the first installment in the series, with the girls traveling through time to assemble an incredible band (the actor portraying Louis Armstrong does an exceptionally good job of portraying a younger version of the trumpeter). There’s a fun scene in which Jimi Hendrix faces off against Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in eighteenth-century Vienna that will make any music lover grin from ear-to-ear (though I doubt Hendrix could have pulled off such neoclassical fluidity so seamlessly).
Their goal is convoluted, but it boils down to this: the girls and their fathers need to write the hit song that will unite the world by 7:17 PM that night—in the future. Apparently, time in the future runs parallel to our own time, so it’s not like the deadline is in 2020. That part didn’t make any sense, but this film doesn’t make any pretensions about sticking to time travel logic (though they bring in Kid Cudi to explain various science-y sounding theories about how space-time works, which is clearly meant to be ludicrous). Why should it—it’s a Bill & Ted movie!
At one point, the boys are traveling across infinite universes and times to deliver instruments to everyone who ever existed—part of the key to prevent Existence itself from flipping (like a record on a turntable) and wiping out everything as we know it. It’s completely ridiculous, but fun—and then everyone joins in with the song that unites the world.
If you love the old films, this installment really pays homage faithfully to those movies. It’s also outrageously funny—my buddy and I were guffawing throughout. Some of the jokes are more cutesy than bust-a-gut funny, but it’s such a light- and warmhearted affair, it doesn’t need to be constantly, knee-slappingly hilarious. My only real critique is that the film bogs down at a few points and could be streamlined a bit, and the zipping back and forth through time and space gets disorienting (though it is fun seeing extremely elderly Bill and Ted rocking out in the after-credit sequence).
Regardless, the film is fun and wholesome—not a bad word in the whole thing, that I can recall (they said “fudge” at one point as a stand-in for a more abrasive word, but that’s it). The characters are lovable. The daughters are fun, and never felt like feminist, grrrrrrrl-power types meant to beat us over the head with a “girls rule, boys drool” message.
Good, clean fun that isn’t boring. What more could you want?
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