Movie Review: Bill & Ted Face the Music
Posted on August 29, 2020 Posted by John Scalzi 40 Comments
I enjoyed Bill & Ted Face the Music quite a bit, which is utterly unsurprising as I am both Gen-X, i.e., the generation of Bill and/or Ted, and also I used to live in San Dimas, home of Bill and Ted and the town in which almost all of this film takes place (fictionally; it doesn’t look like they did a whole lot of filming in actual San Dimas this time around). Also I am the fan of the first two films, particularly Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, the first film in history to successfully reference both Ingmar Bergman and the glam band Poison. What was surprising to me was that I teared up a bit at the end of this one. I know why, and I’ll tell you in a bit.
But first let me talk a little bit about why the Bill & Ted films, including this one, work at all. It’s because, despite their silliness and Gen-X’s general reputation for being deeply saturated in irony, Bill and Ted are genuinely and guilelessly sincere. They’re happy when they’re happy, sad when they’re sad, they like who and what they like, and when they’re called upon to save the world, they square up their shoulders and get to it even when they’re aware that it’s improbable, and possibly irresponsible on the part of the universe, that they are the ones called upon to do it.
They’re holy fools, basically, second cousins to Chance the Gardener and Forrest Gump. They have to be; if they were any more self-aware than they are, these slender and conceptually fragile films wouldn’t fly. Bill and Ted would be too full of doubt and self-recrimination, especially by the time of the third film, when they have been trying to save the world through music for two and a half decades, and consistently failing. If they were more reflective, they wouldn’t still be at it. They’d be co-owners of a Pretzels & Cheese franchise since 2002.
Indeed, when the third film starts, Ted “Theodore” Logan and Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter), are as close to self-reflection as they have ever gotten; their moment as the hottest band in the world is long gone, their careers are over, and their marriages and personal relationships are precarious because they still keep trying to plug away at uniting the world through song, even when their songs are, well, discordant. After a disastrous wedding gig, the two of them are seriously considering packing it in.
Then of course someone arrives from the future, with a new mission for them: Put together the song that unites the world, or the universe collapses. Oh, and they have seventy seven minutes to do it. Go. Off they go in their physics-bending phone booth.
The story wrinkle this time: They’re not the only ones crossing the time streams. Their kids, Thea and Billi (Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine), who appear as sweetly aimless and musically obsessed as their fathers, get hold of their own temporal conveyance to put together a most excellent backing band for their dads, so that when they show up with a song, there will be people to play it. Things go awry, as they do, which occasions a family reunion in Hell, as one does, on the way to an entirely unsurprising and yet emotionally satisfying climax.
Bill and Ted are not enormously self-aware, but the film is and its screenwriters (Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon) are, and one of the most important things they are aware of is that times do change, and time does change us. Holy fools though they are, Bill and Ted do some learning over the course of the film, in a way that allows them to grow up while still keeping to the core of who they are. I figured out a particular plot twist in the film early on, so for me the question was how Bill and Ted would both earn that twist and respond to it. I was pretty happy with the outcome.
And with the film. The film is, bluntly and baldy, optimistic at its core, which feel likes a radical thing here at the end of August in 2020. The idea that there could be one song that brings the whole world together is nothing but a wish, but when the film makes a run at it, it feels like a good wish, and it feels good that people who are decent and kind, as Bill and Ted, and Thea and Billie, and indeed the entire Preston Logan clan are, stand up to be the ones to take that run at it.
Kindness, decency, optimism and guilelessness: That’s why I teared up a bit at Bill & Ted Face the Music. Which was not what I was expecting to do. But I was fine with it when it happened. Turns out I needed it, and a little bit of Bill and Ted, right about now.
No spoilers in the comment thread, please.
Also, a note which I did not put in the review but which I think is worth mentioning: This is a film where it helped that the people writing it were of a certain age, and at least one of whom, I suspect, had children of their own.
Also also, I saw this film via video on demand, because movie theaters, alas, are not yet a safe place to be.
Wow..hell of a review Scalzi .. well done ! Most excellent!!
“Kindness, decency, optimism and guilelessness: That’s why I teared up a bit at Bill & Ted Face the Music. Which was not what I was expecting to do. But I was fine with it when it happened. Turns out I needed it, and a little bit of Bill and Ted, right about now.”
Sounds like we all could do with some more Bill and Ted now. Nice to know there is some good/decent things going on now, despite 2020’s efforts.
I cannot agree with this review more. Be excellent to each other.
Damn near teared up at the end of the review, and I haven’t seen it yet.
Me (64) and my wife (70) first rewatched Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure yesterday morning and absorbed enough of the feel good vibes of the movie that we decided we would see Face the Music at 1:10 in a theater with only two other people in the audience. We too shed a few tears…, Loved the Thea and Billi characters… and agree with you about the kindness, decency, and optimism the film radiates. Our favorite scenes were the couples therapy. We want to live in Bill and Ted’s world. Excellent review!
I also haven’t seen the film yet, but got misty at the review. We are at a point in the world where I both crave and, weirdly, fear unbridled optimism.
My favourite book for an ambience of kindness, decency, guilelessness (even to an armed robber) and optimism (even during a world war—no wonder the word comedy has to be in the title) is The Human Comedy by William Saroyan. I heard parts as a 1940’s radio play, and decades later I read those same parts aloud to some adults as part of a culture day. It opens with a small boy being non racist.
“Kindness, decency, optimism and guilelessness: That’s why I teared up a bit at Bill & Ted Face the Music. Which was not what I was expecting to do. But I was fine with it when it happened.”
Glad it wasn’t just me.
I don’t do movies. I never saw the first two Bill & Teds and I won’t see this one. But I gotta say, I still teared up at the end of your review. A positive attitude is so hard to maintain these days, hope is so hard to find, that even talking about the possibility of hope makes me weepy.
Do you need to have seen the previous ones to understand this film?
Most excellent review! Can’t wait to see it. I’m stuck in a hotel room this weekend, working, and I don’t want to watch on my phone.
Here’s some stupid trivia, that I live for. Especially being a time travel junkie.
I was just rewatching the first two movies, in preparation for the premiere. I kept thinking, ‘Rufus’, why is that so familiar? Then it occurred to me, ‘Timeless’!!!! It’s the name of one of the characters. The show is also about time travel, and I thought that it couldn’t be a coincidence. It isn’t (?wasn’t?), and even cooooooler is that the other 2 main characters are Lucy ‘Preston’ and Wyatt ‘Logan’. It made my day! Aah, the little things. :)
It was just what we needed. Delightful.
Just curious: Does anybody else think Rufus’s time-traveling phone booth is a shout-out to DOCTOR WHO’s TARDIS? (Unfortunately, not the “Bigger on the Inside” part.) Which would make Rufus a Timelord, so he could have been played by any actor sufficiently cool….
Even with confounding everybody’s expectations by becoming a superstar, Keanu Reeves is still A Most Excellent Kind of Guy. It’s good to see him doing a part like Ted, a much gentler sort than his other series character, John Wick.
Thank you for that review! BTFTM hadn’t been on my watch list, but now I’ll add it (have to rewatch the first two, I suppose, ’cause it’s been ages)
When do we get to start saying “Okay, X’er…” ?
Asking for a friend [g]
Oh, that is soooo cool!
Timeless made no sense whatsoever, but I loved it for the excellent actors — have had a thing for Goran V ever since ER and Malcolm Barrett was a constant delight! The cast carried that show
pax / Ctein
Ah, Hugo Weaving’s niece.
Would it be cool if there was a Matrix and Bill & Ted crossover? No, not at all. NOT. AT. ALL.
Okay…so I’m not the only one who got a bit watery-eyed all out of the blue at the end. Good to know.
Just watched the movie, & yes, I loved that it was about love & kindness. We really need so much more of this. :)
I am very saddened by the couple of homophobic slurs in the first two movies, that really weren’t super cool even for the time. I think that I can (and do) still love them both, but always consider that as a factor.
Wonderful review! Probably about as sweet as the movie must be!
Fully agree on the movie being most excellent. I finished it not two hours ago and my wife and I just had an honestly good time with it. The writers recognized what worked in the previous movies and kept that while also introducing enough new things (like the daughters) to keep it fresh. And especially Alex Winter seemed to just love what he was doing.
Whoa! Excellent! I’m a decade or so older than you, and metal wasn’t my thing (but my nephew is a professional metalhead musician/crew/stagehand.) My wife and I saw the first movie, and were highly impressed with it – it’s a dumb movie with two dumb protagonists and it totally rocked, and a good dumb movie is worthwhile, that was a great one, and it was one of the many movies where it might have worked with somebody else instead of Keanu Reeves but probably wouldn’t.
Certainly not the first comedy to reference Bergman (but the band Poison wasn’t around in 1968 when De Düva was made; I forget if there was any actual poison in it.)
Bill and Ted Face the Music was the only movie I was looking forward to this summer. I remember watching Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure in the theater. It laughed more at that movie than any other I’ve seen in the theater, with the possible exception of South Park. We drove to Albany for the day to take my mom to the meeting. The rest of my family and I were killing time at a mall. On the drive down, my mom drilled into us that while we were at the mall we needed to buy a half yard of quarter inch white ribbon. She was so insistent that I still remember that 31 years later.
@chbieck: It’s only vital to see the first film. I haven’t seen the second film, just read a very brief synopsis and that gave me enough context to understand the callbacks in the third film.
“….second cousins to Chance the Gardener ….”
I absolutely adore BEING THERE. Peter Sellers was so good. Thanks for reminding me of that movie. I need to go find it and watch it again.
The great Yehudi Menuhin believed in the power of music to save the world. I recall hearing the following quote in a film of some kind where Mr. Menuhin was talking, and I was lucky enough to find it in writing:
“Peace might be visited upon the Earth if I could only play the Bach Chaconne well-enough in the Sistine Chapel,” believed a young, intensely idealistic Yehudi Menuhin.
An absolutely wonderful, cute, funny and sweet antidote to the shit sandwich of a week the universe served up. Excellent review as well.
We just finished a mega-marathon of this on Amazon: all 3 movies in one afternoon. I decided it was essential since my youngest had not seen the first two movies, and my husband and I hadn’t watched them in a few years. Some notes: I think it helps to watch all 3 movies together as some of the jokes play off each other well. Like amysrevenge, I was unhappy about the homophobic slurs in the first two movies but they are somewhat a product of their times (times which have changed for the better in this area at least: my sons aren’t afraid to embrace their friends). However, I do feel like the optimism in the movies is much needed right now, and John’s notes about Bill and Ted as Fool characters gave me a greater insight into how they were written. All in all, a nice way to spend a day with the family when we aren’t keen on going to theaters right now.
With minimal effort you have sitting on the grass under a tree at Webb in 1985 with a smile on my face. Thanks again, Johnny!
I also just binged all three films, having seen the original quite some time ago (and liked it) but never having seen the second. Agree with amysrevenge that the slurs in the first two were a big negative and pulled me out of the flow. I wish John would explain why he likes the second film so much because other than the Bergman reference (which is great) on the whole as a film it’s kind of a mess. Watching it right after the joy of the first film, it felt like the future had a post-scarcity world all figured out but there’s suddenly a jerk who wants to ruin it all, which was just too much like our last few decades (not that we ever had a post-scarcity society, but we were making progress until about, say, 1980). Layered onto that, when the villain appeared it was too much like a school shooter scene (I know that’s a more recent thing than the film and not their fault, but still hard to take.) Overall, the concept seemed contrived just to create a sequel and mostly incoherent to me.
The third film, I agree, is worth watching and it also brought tears to my eyes for the same reason. If only the world were that simple.
[Deleted because, lol, dude, no. Also, later comments about this comment removed – JS]
Optimism, Keanu, Kid Cudi, Dave Grohl, saving the world…
Bring it on!
Since this is the third review I’ve seen of this, all positive, the time has come for me to see these movies, which I had not done. I ordered DVDs from Netflix, as I enjoy the extras usually available on them. As I was scrolling down these comments I saw the whole image that is usually just a green and white shadow, too, a plus! Now I know.
Definitely looking forward to this, I didn’t know it had released on VOD. Really need to rewatch the first two to get in to the vibe. The first movie was so much fun, but the games with death in the second were hilarious!
Being a native Phoenician, I have many cherished memories of Metrocenter, the mall where a lot of the first film was shot. Sadly, the mall is closed and it may be demolished. Those light tiles that they danced on, those were cool and they weren’t a prop for the movie: they were in one of the mall anchor stores. The ice cream shop where Napoleon had his piggie moment, that went away probably 20 years ago, perhaps more.
I grew up in Phoenix too and spend a lot of time at Metrocenter too. The ice cream shop was Farrell’s with it’s signature tub of ice cream, the Zoo. The Circle K with strange things afoot is still at Southern & Hardy in Tempe, and the clerks still don’t know when the Mongols ruled China.
No kittenz. I am distraught!
Keanu and Alex were on Colbert this week and they really are friends. Which is — I think we can all agree — Most Excellent. When asked who’d win in a fight, Keanu also insisted that John Wick and Neo would never fight.
@Cindy F — I am smacking my forehead at the “Timeless” names. D’oh! That was a good show.
As for ridiculous hope in bad times, I just happened to reread the first collection of Callahan’s Bar stories, and apparently someone was cutting onions as I re-shelved it properly between Alice Mary and Silverbob.
OP has me intrigued to look at the Bill & Ted movies now. It’s not every day that I read something that makes me want to dig up a 30-year-old film and watch it.
I missed the window on replying to the Public Domain Heinlein thread, which is probably just as well given some of what got posted there. I did want to point out that some of his work was already in the “uncanny valley” as early as the 1970s. The worlds of all of his juvie novels were Futures that Couldn’t Happen by that point, and not mostly because the Mariner program revealed what Venus and Mars are really like. Even far-future-ish stories like Star Beast were set in worlds where the 1960s clearly didn’t happen to America. Heinlein’s attempts to talk like a teenager were cringeworthy to a teen reading in the ’70s. And his adult fiction of the ’40s? I’m pretty sure people worrying about “the servant problem” was already obsolete when that was written.