Film Review – Bill & Ted Face the Music
Bill & Ted Face the Music
The premise of the Bill & Ted films has always been absurd, but that’s precisely what made them so charming. William “Bill” Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Theodore “Ted” Logan (Keanu Reeves) are two unlikely heroes – simple but good-natured best friends who are more interested in rocking out as their band “Wyld Stallyns” than living an everyday, conventional life. Their vocabulary is made up of stereotypical, SoCal surfer expressions. To them, “Dude” can be used to articulate deep philosophical meditations.
It’s that earnest quality – the fact that Bill and Ted wear their feelings on their sleeves – that make them so easy to root for as they go about their ridiculous quests. In Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), they use a time traveling phone booth to recruit historical figures for a school project. Things get even more weird in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) where the duo must outsmart the Grim Reaper (William Sadler) to escape hell and fight evil versions of themselves.
And now we arrive three decades later with Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020). The teenagers of the past have grown into middle aged men, shouldering the responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood while still trying to capture their musical dreams. Oh yeah, there’s also that little issue of trying to save the entire universe. Continuing from the previous entry, Bill and Ted have been working on creating the ultimate song to unite the world but instead have fallen into near obscurity. They travel far to the future where The Great Leader (Holland Taylor) warn them that they must complete the song by 7:17pm that day or else all reality will collapse. No pressure, right? Using their unique logic, Bill and Ted take the phone booth and travel into their own futures to steal the song from themselves after it’s already been completed. As Bill so wisely puts it, “It’s not stealing…if we’re stealing from ourselves, dude.”
The sweetness of the narrative is the main draw. As has happened twice before, Bill and Ted find themselves in way over their heads, but their gung-ho, never give up attitude keeps them thinking positively. Even when their marriages to the princesses Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes) and Joanna (Jayma Mays) hit the rocks because the guys are always attached to the hip, they always feel like they can fix things. This lands them in deep water, as the further in time they travel the more trouble their future selves turn out to be. Luckily, their daughters Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Bridgette Lundy-Paine) help them out. The youngsters move throughout time to pick up notable musical figures – Jimi Hendrix (DazMann Still), Louis Armstrong (Jeremiah Craft), Ling Lun (Sharon Gee), Mozart (Daniel Dorr), and a cavewoman named Grom (Patty Anne Miller) – to help play the song.
Directed by Dean Parisot (of Galaxy Quest fame) and written by original Bill & Ted co-writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, Face the Music has a lean, straightforward approach – more akin to the first film as opposed to the second. There isn’t a hint of cynicism, everyone involved takes the material as genuinely as possible. When Bill and Ted try to fix their broken friendship with the Grim Reaper, we can see how much they actually mean it. Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves fall back into their roles like a second skin. They may be older, a little slower, with wrinkles now prominent fixtures on their faces, but they carry their ages as an advantage. Their chemistry is as solid as ever, but now they have the wisdom of time and experience to reflect on their lives.
Of the new faces, Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine clearly share the spotlight. They are tasked with tricky roles – they don’t imitate Winter and Reeves’ mannerisms and speech patterns so much as they translate their auras. Thea and Billie show that they were obviously raised by fathers who saw the world a certain way, and they adopted some of that. But they are their own people with their own personalities. The writing, direction, and performances prevent Thea and Billie from being cliché movie daughters, giving them enough agency to make significant contributions to the story. If the decision is ever made to feature the two in their own spinoff series, I would be interested in seeing that.
Is Face the Music a great sci-fi, adventure comedy? Not really. Is it a good one? Yes, it is. The narrative plays fast and loose with the rules of time travel, but right away we gather that element is not of major concern. The joy and optimism wipes away whatever shortcomings there may be. Like the characters in it, there’s an adorable way in how the movie wants people to come together, not just through music but as a society. Is that a simple, even naïve sentiment? Maybe, but in today’s world keeping things simple might be best for all of us. One of Bill & Ted’s trademark lines is “Be Excellent to Each Other.” Lord knows we need more of that.