At the end of Penelope Spheeris’ 1992 film Wayne’s World, there’s a mid-credits “stinger,” a scene in which our hero Wayne (Mike Meyers) says farewell directly to the audience like so:
Well, that’s all the time we have for our movie. We hope you found it entertaining, whimsical and yet relevant, with an underlined revisionist conceit that belie the film’s emotional attachment to the subject matter.
Now, here’s the thing: Wayne’s World is a goofy lark, a Saturday Night Live sketch drawn out to 95 minutes and burdened with many of the negatives that might accompany the phrase “Saturday Night Live sketch.” But it is also exactly the movie that the stinger says it is.
The movie was released in the ’90s, but it’s more of an ’80s movie at heart. The characters of Wayne and Garth (Dana Carvey) were born out of a meeting of two things which were quintessentially 1980s: heavy metal music, and public-access television. Heavy metal had been the most important type of rock music in the world up until a month before Wayne’s World was released, when Nirvana’s Nevermind reached #1 on the Billboard music charts. In fact the Wayne’s World soundtrack was in some ways the last gasp of metal, as Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” went to #2 on the charts and “Ballroom Blitz”, recorded by female lead Tia Carrere, entered heavy rotation on MTV.
Cable TV existed in 1992, of course, with MTV being the most important channel in the world. But it was still possible to produce successful television outside of the big four networks and cable: the syndicated Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of the most-watched and best-reviewed shows in America at the time, and public-access TV was so popular that SNL could parody it in sketches like “Wayne’s World” and people would know what they were talking about. It wasn’t until a few months after the film’s release that Congress passed the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act, which strengthened cable and signaled a slow death for public-access TV that was completed thirteen years later with the creation of YouTube.
Think about that: Wayne’s World the movie is one of the last snapshots we have of pop culture before alternative music, and later the Internet, changed it for good. Grunge basically didn’t exist when Wayne’s World was being filmed (Nevermind became a hit after it was shot), and Marc Andreessen, who co-created the Mosaic web browser, hadn’t even graduated from college yet when the movie came out. This movie might seem modern, but it’s actually very much dated, and the first time you hear Meyers use the joke construction “…NOT!” you’ll feel it.
But the dated-ness of Wayne’s World is balanced out by the timeless methods by which it jokes around with the fact that it’s even a movie. This is a “breaking the fourth wall” film, where Wayne and Garth are constantly sharing their feelings with the camera, but it’s done in such a unique way. Wayne admonishes a supporting character for talking to the camera because “only me and Garth are allowed to do that,” and Carvey breaks the fourth wall shyly, in character, as though knowing of the audience’s existence inhibits Garth in the same way that pretty girls and famous rock stars do.
Best by far is the product placement scene, in which the movie does two things at once. First it sets up the main conflict of the movie, as a slimy TV executive played by Rob Lowe tries to buy out the “Wayne’s World” public-access show and corrupt it with advertising money. But the characters are engaging in product placement throughout the scene, plugging Pepsi, Pizza Hut, and Nuprin so blatantly as to be ridiculous. It’s really funny, but it’s also trenchant commentary on the fact that a movie which is explicitly meant to be product, intended to cash in on a pair of popular SNL characters and sell thousands of copies of its soundtrack, is trying to give us a “never sell out” message at the same time.
One wonders if the “Wayne gets a big head” storyline was self-referential also. Meyers and Carvey had a long-standing feud that they finally resolved earlier this year; according to movie legend, Mike Meyers wanted to write Carvey out of his first draft of the movie’s screenplay. Once you know that, it’s kind of impressive that Carvey and Meyers were able to have such good chemistry as Wayne and Garth. There’s so much whimsy in the movie that the actors can’t ever slip and let this look like just another job – Wayne and Garth always have to look like they’re having fun, and they do, which keeps the movie fun.
By the end, the desire of Wayne’s World to play around with the format is so aggressive that it has diminishing returns. Robert Patrick appears as the T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day for literally no reason; it’s kind of like a Scary Movie sequel or a film like Epic Movie, where simply trotting a Paris Hilton lookalike in front of the camera is supposed to draw laughs without any actual joke. Having not one but two fake-out endings, plus a couple of stingers during and after the credits, means the film doesn’t end as much as it just runs out of gas.
Still, the “Wayne’s World” SNL sketch was so willfully absurd that you’d prefer the movie had too much whimsy than not enough. You’d want the movie to have a little heft – the worst SNL-sketch films are barely movies at all, some of them just over 70 minutes long – but not be too long lest the jokes get tired. You’d want Spheeris and her stars to leave everything ridiculous on the table, and they do, such that even if the movie is little more than a snapshot of a forgotten time, it’s still immensely fun.
Reviewed by Mark Young