Essays · Movies

How ‘Bill & Ted’ Sparks Joy

“Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.”
By  · Published on February 18th, 2019

Most triumphant sci-fi comedy Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure celebrates its 30th anniversary this week, and yes, it does spark joy decades later. Bill & Ted has maintained its endearing energy and cult status among longtime fans and new audiences alike, proving that very dumb movies can also be very good movies. Fans can look forward to its upcoming threequel Bill & Ted Face the Music, which will bring back Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves for (hopefully) tons more air guitar.

Air Guitar

Following the time travel craze of ’80s cinema, Bill & Ted is the adventure of two SoCal metalheads on a quest to save their grades and the future of their band. After being approached by Rufus (George Carlin), a mysterious man claiming to be from the future, Bill and Ted journey into the past to collect “personages of historical significance.” The two ditzy high schoolers are racing against the clock (literally) to make it back in time for their history presentation — and before Ted’s domineering father carts him off to military school.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure has successfully stood the test of time by being so earnest and downright silly, qualities best reflected in the titular characters. Without a doubt, the heart of the story lies with Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Winter) and Ted Theodore Logan (Reeves). The pair’s naively frank interactions with the other characters throughout Bill & Ted cement the film’s tone as well as providing plenty of laughs.

“I don’t think it’s gonna work, dude.”

Bill and Ted’s ability to bond with their miscellaneous collection of historical figures truly echos their mantra: “Be excellent to each other.” This steadfast kind of positive attitude is what makes the film so refreshing. Bill and Ted find a way to connect with each and every person, from Socrates (or as Ted says, “Soh-craytes”) to Joan of Arc (wonderfully played by Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go’s).

Joan Of Arc

Again, Bill & Ted is at the same time an incredibly fun and goofy film. It may be one of the most quotable movies of the decade and has gained a special kind of notoriety from the wild concoction of phrases used by Bill and Ted. All of which can be pretty much summed up in the medieval era scene, when Bill comes upon what he believes to be Ted’s dead body. “Bogus, heinous… most non-triumphant,” he says, in the saddest inflection of dude-speak known to man.

Almost every line in this movie is gold, highlighted by the obligatory “dude” and goofy smile courtesy of Keanu’s Ted. Of course, it should be noted that Bill & Ted’s screenplay is not immune from the cringe-worthy drop of an f-slur unfortunately shared by many ’80s classics.

Beyond the sheer amount of personality Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure carries, it also features some amazing late-’80s looks. Bill’s DIY crop top with the patterned shirt tied around his waist has pretty much become an iconic outfit from the film. He appears to have personalized almost every aspect of his outfit, even showcasing a hand-drawn design from their band “Wyld Stallyns” on the back of his shirt. Meanwhile, Ted’s disarray of rolled up pants legs, a vest, and flyaway hair help accentuate his blissfully dumb persona.

Keanu’s Ted shines especially bright in this buddy comedy, allowing for a distinction between the two by being the “dumb one” (at least comparatively). Some of the funniest moments in Bill & Ted come from Keanu’s acting, particularly his infectious and instant smile whenever his character is the butt of a joke. Interestingly, this “lovable goof” performance comes immediately after his roles in serious dramas Dangerous Liaisons and River’s Edge.

Poker Face

Bill: “The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.”

Ted: “…That’s us, dude!”

If the heart of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is the boneheads traveling throughout history, then the film’s true joy is the reveal of just how impactful the actions of these particular boneheads will be. At the end of their adventure, Rufus finally tells the boys that their band Wyld Stallyns has become the basis for a completely sustainable society in 2688.

His mission was to keep them together by helping them pass History, effectively preventing their separation via military school. Thanks to them, bowling averages are up and the planet’s water slides are “more excellent” than those on any other. More importantly, though, Rufus explains that “eventually, your music will help put an end to war and poverty — it will align the planets and bring them into universal life.”

Besides all that, it’s excellent for dancing. Aside from being a comedic moment — ironically, the band practices that we’ve seen to that point have so far been agonizing at best — this scene does have a somewhat poetic quality to it. The revelation about their future feels as if the movie is telling us that sometimes two dumb dudes with irrepressible optimism are just what the world needs.

Circle K

Basically, they’ve somehow shaped the future by staying together and making excellent music. Abraham Lincoln put it best, during his final speech in Bill and Ted’s presentation: “These gentlemen are dedicated to a proposition that was true in my time, and is true today: Be excellent to each other… and party on dudes!”

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure sparks so much joy simply by being a film about the importance of having fun. Much as Bill and Ted pair hard rock with a lesson on Ancient Greek philosophy, the movie maintains that there is no wrong way to do things. It succeeds at keeping its audience interested by being unabashedly its own, unique thing. And really, what could be more excellent than that?

Related Topics: , , , , , ,

Kendall is a recent graduate and San Diego native who is passionate about the environment, writing, and above all else Keanu Reeves.