What can be said about a cult-comedy classic that took the world by storm over 20 years ago? A lot of time has passed and it can be easy to forget just how big of an impact Wayne’s World really had on our culture, not just here in America, but just about everywhere. Catchphrases became normal dialogue, jokes were repeated dead-horse style, and even this past Halloween, 24 years later, we all saw a Garth or two partying on. Mike Myers and Dana Carvey were catapulted to stardom pretty much overnight, spreading their characters across the covers of magazines, commercials, billboards and arriving in England by plane to a crowd of over 5,000 screaming fans, Beatles-style. Cut-off jeans were back.
But does this movie really still hold up after all these years?
Back before the first rough cuts were shown to test audiences, many people behind the scenes of Wayne’s World thought they had somehow pulled off a dud. After all the hard work, it seemed the sketch from Saturday Night Live just didn’t have enough breath to last a full-length feature. And Mike Myers agreed. He was known to be inconsolable about the state of the film before its release. He and Carvey had transferred from the wacky, edgy 11:30 pm on a Saturday night in NYC setting, to a quiet, well-lit studio with marks on the ground and take after take after take. They had the precision of Penelope Spheeris, who was riding high after her documentary sequel: The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years, was still making huge waves even during Wayne’s World’s filming. People already knew the characters, the set-up's, the one liners; they got the shtick. What could go wrong?
Myers believed almost none of the jokes landed, and that the story, at best, worked only in 3 minute intervals, which seemed liked cheating when converting a 3-6 minute skit into an 1 hour 35 minute film. He even thought some of the jokes were so bad that he didn’t want to shoot them in the first place, but through Spheeris, Carvey and Producer, Lorne Michaels, many of the scenes he found devastatingly bad were shot, cut and are in the movie you’ve watched on late-night TV time and time again.
But we all know where it goes from here, right? Wayne's World was a hit. First test screenings were such a mess because people were laughing so long after jokes finished that viewers were missing dialogue and build-up to other jokes. Rob Lowe remembers the "Cream of Sum Yung Gai" joke being weird to film on set and that half the crew thought it wasn’t funny at all. Lowe persuaded Myers to keep the joke and when it first screened, the laughter from the crowd was so insane that the rest of the scene was practically useless to the audience. Lowe and Myers looked at each other and shrugged. The next time you’re watching that scene, notice the long pause that was put in between Myers’ delivery of the joke and the next line of dialogue. (If you’re into that sort of thing).
But look beyond jokes landing, does the film still hold that energy everyone fell in love with back in 1992?? Ed O’Neill is still straight up on fire in every scene as the overly dark and depressed manager of the donut diner, Glen. I still laugh my ass off at his delivery of, “Well, the world’s a twisted place...” Dana Carvey is brilliant (as mostly always) as Garth. It has a super silly Terminator 2 reference that I think still works very well even today. Penelope Spheeris does a very good job mixing together the sketch comedy strokes implanted by SNL with the music video background she had come from. The film's ending with Cassandra’s band playing in Wayne’s basement feels just like an introduction to a live performer on the Saturday night sketch show. Oh, yes, let’s talk about Cassandra.
Cassandra may be a side character and Wayne’s love interest/girlfriend, but your Bechdel test can take a lap on this one. Cassandra’s story from playing shows in clubs where fights break out on the regular, to scoring a 6 album deal with one of the hottest producers in the music industry, is just as upfront as Wayne and Garth’s journey from their basement to commercial television. She doesn’t take shit from Wayne when he’s being a child, she doesn’t let the idea of fame and money distract her from her growing distrust of a slimy producer and she rocks the fuck out. Wayne even gives up his dreams of his show reaching the big time to get the word out on Cassandra’s band. It’s her project and her dreams that are fully realized by the end of the movie. And while many other women in the film are objectified to dream girls or super crazy ex’s, there’s something to be said for a musical-comedy from 1992 written by Mike Myers where the female lead is an Asian punk-rocker who wins the day.
So does Wayne’s World hold up? Well, Rob Lowe is in the middle of a huge comeback, Dana Carvey just released a new stand-up special on Netflix, Mike Myers is rich somewhere and the cry for films to feature stronger, independent women has never been louder or as well heard. That’s pretty good for a movie. And it’s really good for a movie that still makes you laugh at Bugs Bunny jokes. That's just excellent.
Founder of and programmer for Story Screen. Lover of stories and pizza in the dark. When he isn't watching movies, you can find him reading things about people watching movies. He lives in Beacon, NY with his cat who is named after Kevin Bacon's character from Friday the 13th.