As the Wyld Stallyns gallop back into (a handful of) cinemas, we look back on Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure from 1989.
Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon’s cult classic follows Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) on a journey through time, collecting historical figures such as Napoleon and Socrates in order to pass their history class, with the assistance (awesomely) of George Carlin. A stoner comedy without the drugs, Bill & Ted never falls into the obnoxious trap of similar high school comedies, gliding along on the duo’s sweet nature and big-haired, open-mouthed innocence.
Also key to a teen movie is a unique lexicon (the best examples being Clueless and Heathers) and both actors handle Bill and Ted’s comically prolific vocabulary with a perfect Valley delivery. It’s worth noting that the rest of his career has proven Reeves wasn’t doing a whole lot of acting here, and continued to say “Woah” in films as diverse as The Matrix and Sweet November. In any case, Excellent Adventure is eminently quotable, and the jokes are pretty bodacious.
When the historical luminaries get to present-day California, scenes where Joan of Arc (“Noah’s wife?”) leads an exercise class and Beethoven rocks out on an array of keyboards feel more like a comment on the tackiness of contemporary American culture than a Michael-style suggestion that it’s the envy of the great and the good. Plus, the time travel mechanics are more robust than Tenet, while the oedipal subplot is decidedly less incesty than in Back to the Future.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is an infectious introduction to a pair of loveable characters with a simple yet enduring message: Be excellent to each other. Incidentally that quote was written on the wall of the office where I used to work, and ironically, the company sacked me at the start of lockdown. Excellent.