' ' Cinema Romantico: Bill & Ted Face the Music

Monday, September 21, 2020

Bill & Ted Face the Music

Earlier this year, at the height of the boomer v millennial war raging across the Interwebs, Alex Pappademas wrote a piece from the perspective of Generation X, framing their notorious ambivalence and insignificance through the doomed campaign of its first Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. Pappademas concluded by urging them (okay, okay, us) to eschew statues and forgo naming monuments for our own, aligning ourselves instead with younger generations to offer help in any way we can since, hey, it’s their world now. Of course, William S. Preston Esq. (Alex Winter) and Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves), two of cinema’s most celebrated Gen Xers, wound up with statues and schools named after themselves in a future they helped create, having saved the world, seemingly at odds with the entreaty of Pappademas. But then, that apparent incongruity is what renders “Bill & Ted Face the Music”, the third film in this series after 1989’s “Excellent Adventure” and 1991’s “Bogus Journey”, as something more than a quick cash grab, which would have been antithetical to Generation X, and more like a proper framing of the historical record. 

When last we left Bill & Ted, they and their band, Wyld Stallyns, had won Battle of the Bands, tendering utopia across the land. “Face the Music”, however, opens with a prologue evoking a VH1 Behind the Music special which, as any Gen Xer who sacked out on the couch for a whole weekend during the 90s can tell you, never end well. It does not end well for Bill & Ted. Though it is prophesied they will write and perform the song uniting the whole world in rhythm, the two middle-aged San Dimas dudes have hit a songwriting wall, uncertain that fulfilling the prophecy is in them. “I’m tired, dude,” Ted says to Bill. Where once the tenor of Reeves’s So Co Spicoli-ish voice sounded so carefree, so earnest, so youthful, in this line reading it bears all the tire marks of middle age, a surprisingly poignant, even painful, moment of which there are many in “Face the Music” despite its commitment to comedy.

Indeed, even Bill & Ted’s bro bond, once their greatest strength, has become a weakness. Bill & Ted’s wives, the Princesses, Joanna (Jayma Mayes) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes), have grown weary of their husband’s emotional entwinement, so pronounced the couples reside in side-by-side homes, and insist on therapy. Rather than attend a session one couple at a time, however, Bill & Ted and Joanna & Elizabeth attend together, much to the comical confusion of the therapist (Jillian Bell), who tries ridding these two dudes of their tendency to see Joanna and Elizabeth strictly through the prism of their own inseparable friendship. Director Dean Parisot, though, is not interested in placing this co-dependency under the microscope, just humorously acknowledging it and moving on. There are more pressing matters, in a manner of speaking, namely that time and space are about to collapse in on themselves because Bill & Ted have failed to write their world-saving song. As such, the two friends time-travel into the future to try and find the place where the song exists and bring it back, a tacit acknowledgment of where their own present failure, providing a twinge of melancholy to the entire quest.

Keeping with the spirit of twos, a parallel story emerges. As Bill & Ted go forward, their daughters, Wilhelmina “Billie” Logan (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Theadora “Thea” Preston (Samara Weaving) go back in time, creating a band out of most excellent musicians who will help their dads play the song to save the world. As both these stories unfold, in the future, The Great Leader (Holland Taylor), convinced Bill & Ted’s death, not their song, will heal the world, dispatches a robot (Anthony Carrigan) to kill these two would-be rockers. Carrigan is funny in playing a kind of confused, mechanized version of self-actualization though, alas, Kristen Schaal as Kelly, the daughter of The Great Leader, feels constrained, which is no easy anti-accomplishment given her unique zaniness.

Of course, it’s not really Schaal’s movie, nor Carrigan’s, not even William Sadler’s, back again as bass-playing Death, this time playing the Grim Reaper as something akin to a day job until such time as he can get back into the recording studio and jam. No, this is Winter and Reeves’s movie and the nearly 30-year break has not lessened their surfer dude screwball rhythms – listening, absorbing, confirming, proceeding – which in our present world, where most comedy is digested in GIF-sized bits, feels at once archaic and refreshing, as Zen-like as it ever was. The fate of the world might be at stake, but they take the edge off. Lundy-Paine and Weaving, meanwhile, rise to the occasion by not doing Winter and Reeves impressions, not exactly, more exuding the sensation of having inherited their dads’ prominent tics while still existing on their own wavelength. They also prove to be more talented, more informed musicians than their fathers, not just “Face the Music’s” secret ingredient but its ultimate message, the daughters’ movie as much as the dads’.

There are elements of a mid-life crisis movie here. In their time-travels, Bill & Ted confront older, disappointing versions of themselves before eventually confronting their elderly selves seemingly near death. But the whole point of death in “Bogus Journey” was to prove that it’s nothing to fear and that holds true here. If there is almost too much plot, so much so that sometimes “Face the Music” can feel as if it is spinning its wheels, that also feels true to Bill & Ted’s quest, which comes to be less about saving the world, in fact, than watching the world pass them by. Their prophecy gives way to insignificance, innately Gen X and true to Pappademas’s plea for deference. Bill & Ted don’t so much face the music, it turns outs, as pass the torch.

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