Monday Movie: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, by David Bax
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I entered California going west on interstate 40, then headed south on the 15 at Barstow, then switched to the 210 west around Rancho Cucamonga. Shortly after, I saw signs for a small San Gabriel Velley suburb called San Dimas. Thanks to a breakdown somewhere in Arizona, it had been more than twenty hours on the road since leaving a hotel in Albuquerque but suddenly, I was alert again, shouting, “San Dimas High School football rules!”
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, directed by Stephen Herek, had all the makings of a movie built to be forgotten. By 1989, SoCal teen comedies had been done to death (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Valley Girl, License to Drive), even with a time travel angle (Back to the Future, Peggy Sue Got Married, Flight of the Navigator). And heavy metal was on the verge of giving way to grunge, turning rockers like Bill and Ted into Beavis and Butthead figures of ridicule.
But Excellent Adventure endures and, on a recent rewatch, I was reminded why. Sure, part of it is that it’s much funnier than given credit for; conceptual jokes like turning historical figures into Breakfast Club-like archetypes (Genghis Khan the Emilio Estevez jock; Joan of Arc the Ally Sheedy rebel) are hilariously clever. But the main thing that shines through now is Bill and Ted’s inherent decency and positivity. Even with their parents and teachers breathing down their necks, they tend to assume the best of everyone they meet. They spend less time griping about homework than they do reveling in music. Compared to the jaded, Reality Bites 90s that were only moments away, it feels almost revolutionary in its worldview. This, however, makes the film’s one moment of homophobia (Bill and Ted hug each other in joy before quickly recoiling and calling each other the three-letter f-word) all the more crushing. I wish I could remove it but it’s there an it’s a part of the movie. Like San Dimas High School football, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure rules but it does so with a heavy, red asterisk.