About the Film
Cast: Mike Meyers, Dana Carvey, Rob Lowe, Tia Carrere
Director: Penelope Spheeris
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
About the Word
Definition: lack·a·dai·si·cal [lak-uh-dey-zi-kuhl] adj. – without interest, vigor, or determination; listless; lethargic
I tend to skew fairly positive with this column, to the point where I annoy myself at times at how easily I fall into the trap of blindly praising a film for its obvious merits. In a way, I think that’s because it’s simply more fun to be positive, to find things to love in the world rather than critique.
The word “lackadaisical,” then, could portend a sea-change for Silver Screen, Silver Tongue, given its neutral-to-negative connotation. One could use the word as an indictment against Wayne’s World, a movie which glorifies the slacker mentality to an unhealthy degree. And, certainly, there were times watching this movie (revisiting it after several years) when I was underwhelmed by it, to the point that I could have easily scoffed and called the whole effort “lazy.” Many of the jokes are meaningless sight gags or references (the random room full of training men in the donut shop and the Terminator cop who pulls Wayne over, to name only two of many) that do nothing to advance the plot or investigate the characters. What few female characters presented here are either “Babraham Lincoln”s or “psycho hose beast”s. Rob Lowe’s character from the first scene of the movie to the last is nothing but pure, snake-oil evil.
And yet, I love Wayne’s World, so I’m going to steer this review towards a Mega Happy Ending (or a Scooby Doo Ending, depending on how things go). After all, this is an SNL spin-off from 1992. If I wanted meaningful storytelling or nuance, I came to the wrong place. So really, to call this film lackadaisical would seem to miss the point: that it’s just a comedy movie meant to tide you over for an hour and a half and squeeze out a couple of laughs. Then, why do I insist on using that word? Why do I insist on condensing this film down to one word that roughly translates to “lazy?”
It goes beyond the fact that Wayne and Garth are slacker supermen, the likes of which hadn’t been seen to such dazzling effect since Bill & Ted had their excellent adventure. It goes beyond the fact that the “Fight the Man” message is so overwrought and cheesy. It goes beyond the fact that our protagonists can just speak into camera or learn Cantonese whenever they need to in order to drive the plot. The beauty of Wayne’s World is that it makes no effort to put on airs; it makes no effort to be something that it’s not. It does so little to separate itself from the slang, the music, and the social mindsets of its time that in so doing it becomes timeless. It becomes a loving, immaculate capsule of everything that was suburban 1992.
From the very first scene, Wayne’s World takes a firm stance (or whatever you call the opposite of firm stance that still makes a point) in its timeliness. We open on a couple lying in bed, watching TV, flipping through commercials. They pass by everything you would expect: an ad for an arcade with Sonic the Hedgehog playing in the background, an ad for Chia Pets, and an ad for the ubiquitous Clapper. Immediately after these, the woman on the bed flips to Wayne’s World, the show within the movie, with a look of utter glee. Here the film is planting itself firmly in the canon of early-90s culture. Hell, they even make a reference to a Grey Poupon mustard commercial within the first act.
Perhaps it isn’t much of a stretch or even much of a headstrong move, since by this time people were well-aware of the SNL sketches and were quoting them left and right. The catchphrases that cycle throughout Wayne’s World (“Chyeah,” “No Way! Way!”, and of course “Schwing!”) had already permeated the parlance of the time. This movie is nothing but an affirmation of that.
I feel like I still haven’t communicated what I’m trying to get at here: this movie is “lackadaisical” in that it opens with a pre-existing reputation for its characters. It has brought in an audience which is already familiar with who they will be dealing with, and then proceeds to give the audience those exact characters, unchanged, throughout the movie. It doesn’t expect the audience to criticize it for this move, or even care. It’s a hell of a triumph, to string people along through a largely pointless joke-fest like this and still be regarded as a time-honored classic. That’s the subversive beauty of Wayne’s World: decrying, on its surface, artistic bankruptcy and corporate monotony, while itself being nothing more than a repackaging of old jokes and an extension of the entertainment juggernaut that is SNL.
Am I giving Wayne’s World too much credit? Of course I am. Like I said, it’s more fun to see the beauty and the positive in things. Some people may view this film as lazy and trite, but I view it as lackadaisical. It’s possessed of a sort of laziness that belies mental acuity. It’s the kind of laziness that isn’t these performers’ (at least, not Dana Carvey’s) ground state. If you still don’t buy what I’m selling here, let me sum it up in two quotes from Garth and two from “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
I’ll start with Garth. He offers two great moments of wisdom in this film, the first being at the beginning when Wayne is looking in on a guitar he wants to buy. Garth proclaims “Stop torturing yourself, man, you’ll never afford it! Live in the now!” That may seem vapid on paper, but it’s the emotional heart of the movie. It’s the reason everything is so stuck in its time. That quote epitomizes how Wayne’s World manages to turn the tragic flaw of many great films (looking dated) into its cardinal virtue.
Another one from Garth, which requires you to hear his tone, is when he and Wayne are lying on the hood of the car at the airport and he says “Sometimes I wish I could boldly go where no man’s gone before, but I’ll probably stay in Aurora.” Mind you, there isn’t a lick of sadness or defeat in that statement. Instead, it’s a pitch-perfect representation of suburban contentedness, the kind of blissful ignorance that petrifies song upstart intellectuals and drives them to the metropolis. Here, though, that fatalist fear of being stuck in a rut is humanized in the form of our protagonists. We’re shown that knowing who you are and not bothering to change can be a beautiful thing.
I promised a little Queen, and I’ll deliver. Now, most people may just think of the headbanging “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene as a fun moment that doesn’t have much substance. For me, though, that moment is the true introduction of the film’s thesis. By invoking the innocence and enthusiasm of its main characters, Wayne’s World takes the tragedy of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and reinterprets it, turning it into a ballad for the slacker, a glorification of being of the time and in the moment, and refusing to go above and beyond for any reason. Much like this article, it is a moment that pushes aside the negative in an almost comical search for positivity. The two lines that stuck out to me the most were when Mercury sings “Easy come, easy go,” and “Nothing really matters to me.” In the song proper, both of these moments are profoundly sad and defeatist, but when Wayne and Garth sing them with bright eyes and wide smiles, you can’t help but feel happy to just not give a damn about anything.
As the credits roll, Wayne and Garth reappear on screen, and Wayne says “Well, that’s all the time we had for our movie. We hope you found it entertaining, whimsical and yet relevant, with an underlying revisionist conceit that belied the films emotional attachments to the subject matter,” to which Garth responds “I just hoped you didn’t think it sucked.” There’s really no better way to say it than that. Wayne’s World is lackadaisical.