Bill & Ted’s Excellent Distraction
Bill & Ted Face The Music release to theatres and rental services on Friday. Today, Keanu Reeves turned 54. Whether you watch it as a fan of the franchise, or as a birthday present to an Internet darling, you can watch the third and final installment of the Bill & Ted trilogy from the comfort of your own home or the dangers of a public theatre.
But should you?
I rented Bill & Ted Face The Music opening weekend. For the length of quarantine so far, Cineplex reminded me weekly in their newsletter that I have a “free” movie rental whenever I want (I say “free” because I have enough Scene points from the days of going to theatres to afford a rental, and while I wouldn’t be paying cash, I say if I’m exchanging a resource for a good or service, that good or service isn’t free, Cineplex!).
Despite many movies released in the first half of the year interesting me, I waited until Bill & Ted Face The Music to cash them in.
Was It Worth It?
I had access to Bill & Ted Face The Music for 48 hours. I watched it twice, and wish I could have fit in a third viewing. Few movies compare to a Bill & Ted movie when it comes to optimism, momentum, and surprising subtlety.
If only more of us adopted “Be excellent to each other” as our mantra. I try not to distract myself from the current state of the world, both because “ignore it and it’ll go away” is baseless, and because distractions caused and perpetuated the current state of the world. However, Face the Music’s specific brand of distraction.
The struggle of our titular characters is relatable. Thirty years ago, Bill & Ted found out they were destined to write a song that saves the world. For the last thirty years, they have failed to write that song. Now they have an hour and a half or the universe unravels. Being completely average but having to deal with the end of the world screams 2020.
However, despite their frustration, Bill & Ted never accept defeat. For 30 years, they have been trying. The movie opens with a performance that’s weird and unpleasant, but it isn’t strictly played for laughs. It’s the culmination of 30 years of trying everything else and running out of ideas.
Every scene in Face The Music springs into the next one. One plotline follows Bill & Ted consulting gradually older versions of themselves trying to meet some version of themselves that has already written the song they need to write.
Meanwhile, their daughters get the idea that Bill & Ted need a band to play this song once they’ve written it, so they go back in time to recruit/kidnap historical musicians to play in this band.
Both plotlines are moving towards the same goal, with different successes and failures. The movie is regularly checking in on the different sets of characters, always moving towards a goal, but rarely ahead of itself. There’s a bit of a twist near the end that’s given away when it’s foreshadowed in the beginning, but even being able to predict that twist did not spoil the last act or the journey there.
Like our main characters, Alex Winter’s Bill S. Preston, Esq, and Keanu Reeves’ “Ted” Theodore Logan, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure seems dumb. Until you watch the movie, or listen to the characters. Mixed in with the “whoa”s and “dude”s is an impressive vocabulary that indicates wisdom and emotional intelligence.
The filmmakers made smart choices. Historical figures speak the language they would. Minimal exposition means the viewer either needs to know who the historical figures are and why they matter or else find out for themselves.
The filmmakers also avoided dumb choices. The humour avoids low hanging fruit. I can’t think of a single fart joke in any of the three movies that, again, started as a teen comedy. Most of the humour is in how little Bill & Ted (and in Face the Music, their daughters) question the science fiction elements suddenly injected into their lives.
It’s also easy why the main characters are so endearing. Heck, it’s hard to differentiate the main characters beyond their looks. The filmmakers, director Dean Parisot, and writers Chris Matheson and the returning Ed Solomon, pepper the film with warm moments, but don’t linger on them. One of the film’s most touching moments belongs to Kristen Schaal’s character Kelly, but if you blink you’ll miss it. Ted has a touching moment in the later half of the film that, upon my second viewing, is established in every Ted scene up to them.
A Perfect Threequel
Sticking a landing is hard for a movie or TV series. There are far more Game of Thrones Season 8s and Rise of Skywalkers than there are Avengers: Endgames. Bill & Ted Face The Music sticks the landing almost as perfectly as the end of a threequel could.
First of all, it concludes the metaplot set up in the first movie. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is about passing a history class spectacularly so they can go on to write a song that unites the universe. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey fleshes out why the universe needs to be united. It also concludes the metaplot by having them play a concert at the end that certainly feels like they’re playing the song that unites the universe. However, it’s not such a strong ending or so definitively stated that when Face The Music reverses it in an opening montage, it feels like a cop out. At least the retcon sets up a compelling conflict for Face the Music to explore.
Second of all, it uses the mechanics of the world in new and interesting ways. Not just the time travel established in the first film, but Bogus Journey’s rules for the afterlife as well. They play key roles in Face the Music’s plot advancement.
Third of all, Face the Music makes Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey better movies. The throughline of the trilogy builds importance to scenes in both directions (Bogus Journey’s ending being the exception). Have you ever thought about watching a series and fans of the series have to warn you about something. “Star Trek TNG’s first season is rough, but power through it to get to the good stuff”. “You can kind of skip Phantom Menace but unfortunately not Attack of the Clones.” Face the Music makes Excellent Adventure better, Bogus Journey much better, and isn’t possible without both of the previous installments. Watching the daughters recruit historical musicians made me wonder for the first time “Wait, why wasn’t that the plot of Excellent Adventure?” Face the Music is the Bill & Ted adventure I didn’t realize this series still needed.
On That Note
My main concern about recommending Bill & Ted Face the Music is how perfectly in line this movie is with my tastes. You can enjoy it on the surface, but you can enjoy it much more by thinking on it. “Overthinking it,” I’m told. But for viewers who don’t know the first two movies extremely well? This might come off as light but pointless antics. And if you haven’t seen the first two movies? I have no idea if Face the Music will even make sense.
If you haven’t seen Excellent Adventure or Bogus Journey but you did watch Face the Music, I’d love to hear your thoughts.