Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wayne's World - Retro Review

In the lexicon of films created from Saturday Night Live sketches, from Coneheads to The Ladies Man, the one that stands head and shoulders above the pack is Wayne’s World. Starring Mike Myers and Dana Carvey as the titular Wayne and Garth, it was born out of sketch that was simple in premise and outstanding in execution. Two Gen-Xer’s broadcast on public access a show about rock music that always managed to gets the same amazing guests appearing on SNL that week. But, Wayne and Garth did become quite the zeitgeists of their time and managed to become a sensation on the show in a cast that included Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Dennis Miller, Norm McDonald, Chris Farley, David Spade, Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. And it proved to be the break out characters for both Myers and Carvey, allowing them to pursue a career after the show in film. Sure, perhaps more movies could have been made of some funnier sketches or not as many movies about some really shitty ones, but what do I know? I’m just a caveman!

The first film worked mostly as a comedy of the absurd. By using the simple plot premise of Wayne and Garth’s show being picked up and commercialized, the movie satires television, literature, film, music, pop culture, language, sports, social issues such as the entertainment business and hilarity ensues. The movie pokes fun at such diverse targets as rock stars, Star Trek, product placement, Kierkegaard, Laverne and Shirley, the state of Delaware, Annie Hall, Claudia Schiffer, Psycho, television commercials, pop music, hip hop, metal, Lassie, Led Zepplin, and Terminator 2. But, the humor really came from the structure of the movie and utilizing classic techniques of the spoof movies pioneered by such films as Blazing Saddles and Airplane! By acknowledging breaks in the continuity, breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience and really being able to make fun of themselves more than anything, they not only draw the audience into the film, but they really succeed in drawing them into the joke. All the jokes are designed to be broad, not over the top or over indulgent either. A remarkable fact about the movie is that it is rated PG, which would preclude that they really tried to translate the television sketch to the big screen, creating a much longer sketch with jokes that never made it past dress rehearsal on Saturday night, not unlike a movie like Reno 911! Miami or Borat. Also, the film contains one of the first known recordings of, “That’s what she said.”

I need to sidetrack here for just a paragraph and tell you that my true affection for Wayne’s World is rooted in the belief that like movies such as The Godfather, The Big Lebowski and Coming to America, this movie could be the post-modern Tai Chi, containing the answer to every question. Highly quotable, the dialogue works its way into my everyday conversation and even now, sometimes with out my conscious knowledge. Is someone planning on surprising you? Let them know, “If it’s a severed head, I’m going to be very upset.” Do you find yourself unable to get through to a stubborn friend? Live in the now!” And of course, in times of relationship difficulties, never forget that, “Marriage is punishment for shoplifting in some countries.”

In Wayne’s World 2, Wayne and Garth produce a massive concert event, but the plot really just serves the larger parody of movies, mainly, The Doors, The Graduate and Woodstock. And while there are again great bits to riff and skewer film noir, An Officer and A Gentleman, Carvey’s Cary Grant impression, Myer’s Scottish accent and The Village People, there are moments where the story simply serves the joke, like the Jurassic Park bit. Does the film lose its way or suffer for it? No, not at all. But, to me, it does mark the end of the great comedy spoof films and the beginning of a very uninteresting period of comedies. Unfortunately today, more movies are put out like Meet The Spartans and Superhero Movie and less like Wayne’s World or for that matter, Hot Fuzz or SuperBad. To me, the movie highlights the dearth of original comedic talent in the industry in the past ten to fifteen years. People wonder why they don’t make movies like Airplane! or Blazing Saddles or Caddyshack and Stripes. It’s doesn’t matter if it’s the economics of making movies or a cultural shift in audiences. All I know is I hope everyone gets to enjoy more movies that they find entertaining, whimsical and yet relevant, with an underlying revisionist conceit that bullied the films emotional attachments to the subject matter. Or at the very least, I just hope you don’t think it sucked.


Anonymous said...

How could you forget "Schwing!"?? Or am I the only one who stills thinks that??

Big Mike said...

Sometimes, I think perhaps I have a little too much Garth Algar in me, for I find myself in casual conversation and interrupting myself to shout or whistle at attractive women as they pass by.

Thanks for the comment!