Movie review: Bill & Ted Face The Music (2020)

What’s up? Been a few weeks. I have comic strips & art to post. But I’ve not been in the mood to get in front of a different computer after being on my work computer all day and turn around and do comic & site stuff. Sorry! BUT! I saw a movie and thought I’d mention it:

What did you watch? Bill & Ted Face The Music, on VOD thanks to the pandemic

Oh cool, did you know that Bill & Ted are friends in real life? Yes, I’ve seen the EPKs.

The actors who play Bill & Ted. Yes, I know.

Did you know that YES ALREADY, I LOVE THE OTHER MOVIES, OKAY? I KNOW TOO MUCH ABOUT THE BILL & TED FILMS. I HAVE ORIGINAL ART FROM SOME OF THE COMIC BOOKS.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure has a special place in my heart (and farts) because I was an uptight pre-teen who was way stressed out for too many nonsensical reasons. Then my sister took me to see it on opening weekend for my birthday. An emotional spigot was turned on and my heart opened wide and not only did I laugh through most of it, I felt a release through the characters where I could learn to relax.

I’m not kidding about these characters having an impact on my emotional well-being. A teacher told me that I always looked like I was going to have heart attacks. I didn’t. So, thanks, Excellent Adventure.

Bill & Ted are goofy southern California types, best friends joined at the hip who want to be in an awesome band but don’t know how to play instruments. Just dreamers, not too bright (albeit have pretty wide vocabularies through all three films), and that might be why George Carlin shows up from the future to help them ace a history test. Going against all advice from every scifi adventure that events hints at time travel, Carlin gives Bill & Ted a time machine which they use to kidnap some important figures in history. There are great uses of montages in this 1st movie, or maybe I was just impressed by it at the time. Sometimes montages drag. But I remember big laughs as they “Candygram” Abraham Lincoln, and then in the next reel they dump these historical figures off at a mall, who in turn wreak havoc before being imprisoned. B&T pass their history class, then in the next movie (Bogus Journey) they need to win a battle of a bands. Instead? They are killed off, and evade the grim reaper in an effort to catch up with their robotic doppelganger villains before more damage is done to their families.

I could watch a whole movie where Bill & Ted play board games with Death and try to outsmart evil robot versions of themselves. That’s kind of what Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is about, but there’s some stuff about facing your fears in a hellscape that feels like pointless dream sequences in lesser films (and apparently would have been an additional scene to have that plot come full circle, but was pulled?). It falls apart with its rushed ending and a montage where Bill & Ted’s future was cemented and everything would be ok across the universe. It’s an okay sequel, with the highlights being what I mentioned: Bill & Ted reacting to their awful selves, their awful robot selves, and William Sadler’s hilarious Death character struggling to keep his dignity during a game of CLUE.

Bill & Ted are sold to us as being dimwits (“Who was Joan Of Arc?” “Noah’s wife?” BAM I want to see this movie) but they’re not walking brain stems who say stupid and inappropriate things in the face of new information or a new scenario. They’re not just telling jokes or being punchlines, Winter & Reeves play guys doing their best and it wears on them when they might fail. One of the best bits in Excellent Adventure is when Bill and Ted introduce the historical figures they’ve kidnapped to Bill’s stepmother, coming up with half ass fake names (“Bob Ghengis Khan”) before giving up completely, “…and Abraham Lincoln.” Ted knows he can’t keep the BS going, and just stops lying, and it’s the funniest delivery.

Failure is the theme Face The Music. It opens with a wedding where Bill & Ted, still a rock band, perform an odd song to welcome the bride into their extend family, with “open arms,” before Ted’s father literally pulls the plug on them. Bill & Ted seem to have good lives: still married, have daughters who have absorbed their love of music and then some. Their band has NOT made it, instead it has declined to bargain bins in record stores and a nonexistent fan base. I’ll try to keep this part spoiler free, but if you’ve seen the trailer you know this part about the wedding song and their couples therapy (I was worried about whether I wanted to see this until the trailer, “a couple of couples” line BAM I was in). They are visited by Kristin Schaal from the future, to let them know they have a whopping 70 minutes to write and perform the song that is to unite the world and apparently all of time and space is pivoting on this exact moment.

Thus begins two separate plot lines (and a 3rd that barely gets touched on) that takes this movie into funny and unfunny places. Bill & Ted, as the trailer hints, use their old time travel phone booth to see if the future versions of themselves have written that particular song yet. Their daughters convince Schaal to lend them her time travel machine to pick up musicians from different time periods to help their dads perform the song once Bill & Ted write it.

What follows is a mess in tone and comedy, albeit a net positive one. Nothing against anyone on screen, but the scenes where daughters Thea and Billie pick up Jimi Hendrix and Louie Armstrong drag. I honestly didn’t recall any jokes. Thea & Billie also act as conjoined at the hip as their fathers, as if the movie is telling us “see? we’re passing the torch to their daughters,” in a plot point you all see from the moment Schaal tells Bill & Ted what the stakes are, but that’s pretty much it. Samara Weaving & Brigette Lundy-Paine don’t have a lot to work with. Maybe watching them make several similar trips to recruit a historical musician became tedious. (remember the montages? Who’d think I’d want a montage at this point?) Maybe all we know is that they’re just carbon-copy open sponges, like their dads, who like music, and that’s it. Maybe I’m just a crab monster who can’t have fun, that’s possible.

I Have Theories, like the budget wasn’t that big because the studio relented to let the team make this story their way, but without a ton of cash. Maybe time was an issue, because they finished filming and then COVID hit and that became a problem for reshoots if needed or other post-production editing, and the studio was like “look, we gotta release SOMETHING.” I will say the ending, even as plots converge, felt just as rushed or even moreso than Bogus Journey.

There’s also a thread where Bill & Ted’s wives are ushered into another booth with their older selves to see if their lives will ever get better with Bill & Ted. This is one where I wonder if they had more filmed and we could have seen Elizabeth and Joanna participate in the wackiness, but they ran out of time for reasons above. I haven’t even gotten to the 3rd act, where Sadler’s Grim Reaper is reintroduced and there’s another plot thread with a despondent and regretful robot assassin, the latter who could have carried some scenes had it been introduced earlier.

(note: cowriter Ed Solomon hints in a reddit q&a timat a time, budget, and COVID pandemic combining storm that likely resulted in the plot threads left hanging and its rushed ending. So if you’re super-nitpicky like me, give everyone here a break.)

I wanna talk about the good, but to sell you that there’s a positive experience here even for crab monsters, I might dip into spoiler territory. And then I’d be worse than a crab monster. So, how about this? When it’s good, it’s GREAT. And that’s all because of Winter & Reeves. They seek out their future selves to help them fulfill their destiny & save reality as they know it, in all-too brief (but maybe perfectly so) interactions. Their future selves remember the main Bill & Ted visiting them, and why. They guilt or bamboozle our duo, likely in an effort to restore what they use to have with the princess wives, but only by being just as irresponsible as our Bill & Ted.

These future Bill & Teds disappoint them, not just because future Bill & Teds are pathetic, but because our Bill & Ted grow more heartbroken and frustrated in realizing how these failings are in fact their fault. It might be who they actually become.

Things work out, things don’t work out, there’s a robot assassin, there’s reuniting with a bitter former band member in the Grim Reaper, there’s time collapsing on itself, there’s detailis I’m leaving out but our heroic families prevail in a way and things are saved and roll credits.

I think if you’re watching this with friends or family via VOD because who the hell wants to risk getting COVID in air-conditioned movie theaters nixing any social distance measures taken, then go ahead and get the VOD. Maybe a little harder to shell out the high price if you’re a sad crab monster who lives alone, like me. There’s a bunch of other big movies being released this week and they look either really stupid (New Mutants, in limbo for THREE YEARS and is ONLY in theaters during a pandemic because WHY?!?!?) or bombastically confusingly stupid (Tenet, which I’m sure will be a wild adventure albeit with nonstop exposition, thanks Nolan). A lot of people are happy to accept Face The Music’s sappy positivity (I SAID I WAS A CRAB MONSTER) because the world sucks right now, and Bill & Tell are lovable and the actors’ real life friendship makes them more lovable, and you know they’re gonna say “be excellent to each other” while doing goofy things but they mean it, and people want to hear them say it in the now.

There was probably more planned, either with the wives or the daughters, character arcs weren’t finished and then time ran out before the pandemic. I don’t know, but I’m down on what I felt were disjointed plots for the lady characters. Knowing that this is it for Winter & Reeves’ Bill & Ted, because the actors and writers are happy to make this the endcap to their story, I’m sad that we won’t get more of them, especially BECAUSE they killed it when they returned to these characters. So, a sloppy plot & some missed opportunities with new characters, vs a perfect return of two characters who couldn’t be played by anyone else, absolutely killing it in their scenes against themselves for that (ugh) feel good summer movie we can’t have in an actual world going wrong.

So was it good or not? Yes? When it retreads the 1st movie plot to pass the torch, it drags; when Bill & Ted are doing their Bill & Ted thing, it’s hilarious. I had issues but I’m glad I watched it, so there. I suspect there’s reasons where particular balls were dropped due to circumstances beyond their control, so i think I have to step back from my crab monster tendancies and give it a pass on parts I didn’t like.

I just wanna feel good for 90 minutes, this movie delivers. Do us all a favor and turn around and do some good for people whenever you can. And if you know the root cause of these issues making the world so crappy, be excellent by getting involved and making a difference for each other.

How about this, I’ll go into spoiler territory to talk about the super positive parts:

  • The speech Bill & Ted give at the wedding is so cringe-inducing hilarious I kept heaving “stop! stop!” as they kept talking. I had to pause it to catch my breath. Eagle eye viewers of the trailer spotted who the wedding was for, adding to one of the best running gags for these films. But there’s no commentary or judgement from Bill & Ted about the nuptials, they just state without malice how the bride is related to everyone. It’s a perfect (re)introduction into how clever these characters are.
  • Bill & Ted meet their future selves in a mansion where they are given the song they finally wrote. They are about to leave when they open the door and it’s a (real life) rock star. They’re excited to see him, but he asks what they’re doing in his house. Winter especially carries this moment: not only does he realize that he’s been lied to, and that future Bill & Ted are doing something awful, and that they’re in more trouble, but his look shows Bill’s further shame and existential terror that future Bill, and therefore himself, is in fact this bad of a person. I don’t think I’m reading into it too much (yes I am). I really felt for him, and it was a huge laugh at a perfect reveal.
  • I could watch a movie where Bill, Ted, and Death sit around a table and catch up for 90 minutes. I think the assassin robot would have stolen the entire movie had he been introduced earlier (for reasons?). Once he started talking after shooting, his presence changed the tone of his scenes with funny results, but then he’s just kind of there. A robot & Death spinoff? An annual special on Netflix of Bill, Ted, & Death? Hollywood hasn’t called me about my farting robots, so what do I know.

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