A non-heinous third installment hits home video
I had a journey of anticipation with Bill & Ted Face The Music unlike anything I’ve ever had before. A lifelong fan of both Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure AND Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (I think it’s the best of the series), I’d always been interested in seeing a third film come to fruition. As decades ticked by it seemed increasingly unlikely to happen, but rumors across the internet were that the script for Face The Music was something special, and as the career trajectories of stars Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter varied and planets seemed to align… one began daring to hope that not only would a third Bill & Ted adventure happen, but that it might even be great. After all, writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon birthed these characters and wrote them through both previous adventures, so if anyone could stick the landing with a trilogy capper decades later, it’d be these gentlemen. As news hit that Bill & Ted 3 was greenlit, I was giddy. My anticipation was through the roof. Then I grew a serious pair of cold feet. I think it must have been COVID blues, but even though I enjoyed the trailer for the film, I began to dread seeing the movie. What if it was terrible? What if, after all these years of waiting, the final product was an embarrassment? What if the magic was gone? What if the journey was, indeed, bogus?
I needn’t have worried.
A trilogy capper truly decades in the making, Bill & Ted Face The Music may not have the same feel of the first two films in the sense that it comes from an entirely different era of filmmaking (a WHOLE lot of green screen going on), but it fits like a glove with the previous adventures and in doing so creates perhaps one of the most consistent and delightful trilogies brought to life by the same core creative team that’s ever graced the silver screen.
As the film has long been available and is just now making its home physical media debut, I’m going to review the film without holding back on spoilers, so be warned as I list out 4 key elements that make Face The Music a righteous series ender.
1: It’s Hilarious
My trepidation melted away within mere moments as I found myself laughing uproariously in the opening wedding scene in which infamous series side character Missy is marrying Ted’s younger brother Deacon (after having divorced Ted’s father) and never stopped throughout. I’ve often found reviewing comedies to be a particular challenge because there’s a simple binary to it. Did I laugh? A lot? Yes? Okay, then it’s a good comedy.
But the comedy of the Bill & Ted films has a few key ingredients that are important to highlight.
For one thing, Face The Music proves the miracle of casting and chemistry. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, together, playing the characters of Ted “Theodore” Logan and Bill S. Preston, Esq., respectively, are the very definition of movie magic. As much as we all (rightly) love Keanu Reeves, he isn’t primarily known as a comedic genius. And as much as we all respect the remarkable documentary work of actor-turned-filmmaker Alex Winter, he hasn’t been quite the A-list leading man star that Keanu has become. And yet, when you put these two together on screen, their various strengths and weaknesses, the baggage of their different careers outside of these films… it all melts away and the magic of a perfectly executed “schtick” takes over. And that schtick works effortlessly, never feeling rusty or forced even when emanating from the bodies of now 50+ year old actors playing characters who were almost certainly only ever envisioned as affable teens at the start.
Aside from the effortless delivery from our leads, the comedy bits also flow naturally from the pens of Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon. Mixing elements of time travel and heaven and hell shenanigans from the first two films with a new hook that’s just as ridiculous as any of the previous movies’ plots, Face The Music manages to simply write a series of gags and character moments and plot points that are absolutely hysterical as much as they are often head-scratchingly weird (just like Station!).
Honestly the funniest gag that had me rolling with laughter and also genuinely brought the story into the 21st century and ushered these characters into adulthood was the therapy scene in which both Bill and Ted end up in couples therapy because their wives are concerned that Bill and Ted are a little too… inseparable, and that their marriages may be suffering as a result. Bill and Ted are entirely incapable of understanding why this therapy session wouldn’t happen with ALL FOUR of them sitting on the same couch, and can’t see the weirdness of saying “we love you” to their wives instead of “I love you”. The execution of this sequence is absolutely hilarious, with Jillian Bell as the flummoxed therapist really knocking it out of the park. It’s comedy gold, richly establishes the present state of our characters, and reinforces the childlike goodness of Bill and Ted while also highlighting how their uniqueness might have some real world consequences not explored in the previous films.
2: It’s Smart
It’s not easy being this dumb. Bill and Ted are famous cinematic dunces, known for their jovial camaraderie with one another and their baffling foolishness to seemingly every adult around them. Having grown up with such famous cinematic idiots as these two, Beavis and Butthead, and Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne from Dumb And Dumber, I relished idiodic characters in my youth. But younger me didn’t realize the razor’s edge writers, creators, and stars walk on when bringing morons to life.
Key to the success of the Bill & Ted movies is that our heroes are twice as good natured as they are dumb. Those who see through or past their dim-wittedness, such as their princess-wives and their doting daughters, are rewarded by doing life together with genuinely nice guys who navigate tricky situations with a profound level of morality and loyalty that, despite their troubling inseparability, seems to come from their own friendship with one another.
There’s simply no getting around the fact that it takes smarts to make dumb so enjoyable. Matheson and Solomon once again prove their franchise MVP status in finding endless ways to make stupid both endearing and compelling to watch.
Their plotting goes a long way in this regard. From a “time travelling through history” hook to an “afterlife adventure” angle right up to this “encountering differing iterations of ourselves throughout time” angle, Matheson and Solomon are routinely creating madcap adventures for our idiot characters that are themselves interesting or at least offer something to think about. In Face The Music our heroes find themselves professionally floundering, their lives not having lived up to the prophecies their beloved Rufus (George Carlin) had told them about. Their band Wyld Stallyns haven’t saved the world, and they’re on the verge of a band breakup. But when Rufus’s daughter Kelly shows up (Kristen Schaal in a great casting choice which avoids any comparisons to the iconic Carlin) and whisks them back to the future to let them know that they have only HOURS to write the song that will save the world from imploding, the guys decide the only way to guarantee they’re able to succeed in writing the song is to go into the future to steal it from THEMSELVES! Queue a series of existential encounters between Bills & Teds of different eras, with absurd, hilarious results that also… kinda make you think.
Perhaps the greatest example of this dynamic between the intelligent and the idiotic in the series as a whole would be the presence of William Sadler’s Death. Portrayed as the Grim Reaper with visual queues from Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Sadler’s Death is hilariously outsmarted by Bill and Ted in a series of games played for the fate of their souls which devolve into such trials as Twister and Battleship. Then, here in Face The Music these former Wyld Stallyns bandmates must bury the hatchet after Death tried to steal the band’s IP. It’s just absurd stuff, but also comically genius, and oddly compelling character work.
3: It’s Timely
These are dark times. No matter who you are or where you are, there’s a pandemic sweeping the planet and global politics are incredibly volatile. We’ve never been more connected, and yet it’s never been so easy for hate to proliferate. And while Bill & Ted Face The Music has been percolating as a concept for decades… through another fate of movie magic, this gem of optimism has come to us at precisely the time when we needed it most. To be honest, had I seen Face The Music even as recently as 2019, I’m not sure it would have landed with as much resonance for me as it did watching it home alone amidst a series of global and personal crises. I needed the persistent, buoyant optimism of Bill & Ted Face The Music. I needed to see good people with genuine issues and baggage of their own face the future, invest in their families, and save the day.
4: It’s the Future
About Bill and Ted’s families. I’ve already alluded to the hilarious couples therapy that sends “the princesses” on a time travelling journey of their own to encounter the same hilarious iterations of future Bill and Teds that our heroes keep encountering. But it’s the daughters, Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) who provide the ultimate lynchpin of Face The Music. Having grown up as the daughters of the Wyld Stallyns, these two are mirror images of their fathers, innately good, joined at the hip as best friends, and yet… they’ve ditched the dumb and instead are full on musical prodigies with a vast well of musical knowledge to pull from. The climax of the film involves Bill and Ted realizing that saving the world really isn’t about THEM. They aren’t the saviors. They must let go of the promise they’ve lived their whole life believing: that their dumb asses would somehow save the world. They must give up their privileged/chosen status to pass it along to the next generation. A younger, smarter, more female generation. It isn’t Wyld Stallyns who unite the planet in song, it’s Preston/Logan. And of course, who would these young women be without the loving parents who raised them, treated them with dignity, and encouraged their musical giftedness. At the very moment when all hope was lost and reality was collapsing in on itself, two lovable idiots who’d spent a lifetime doing the work of worshipping their wives and doting on their daughters recognize that the future is female, and gladly pass on the mantle without regard to their egos or status.
But Thea and Billie themselves exhibit pluck and agency throughout the film as well. On their own time travelling journey, they borrow Kelly’s “future pod” thing and assemble the greatest band imaginable from all eras of history. When their time comes and all of history is about to collapse in a weird space-time phenomenon… and when their dads come to the realization that this isn’t about them… Billie and Thea are ready. They’ve been doing the work their whole lives. The song that saves the world flows out of them effortlessly because, unlike their dads who constantly look for the easy way to time-travel their way out of a problem, Billie and Thea have prepared for the moment. This all results in a righteous love letter to music as luminaries like Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Mozart, and the Wyld Stallyns (complete with Death on bass) follow Preston/Logan’s lead and save the world through song. God gave rock & roll to you, indeed.
And I’m Out.
Bill & Ted Face The Music is now available on Digital, Blu-ray, & DVD from Orion Pictures and Warner Brothers Home Entertainment