Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure has a strange appeal to modern audiences. It’s not just a zeitgeist thing, where people who were in their prime during the late 1980s watch it to take a trip down memory lane. It’s also not just a cult classic or a museum piece. There is some enduring reason why people still wear Bill and Ted t shirts and make memes from a film this old. Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you’ve probably been exposed to it before. So that begs the question: what is it that makes this movie so strangely addictive?
In the first place, it was the movie that introduced Keanu Reeves to international audiences. Although he would go on to arguably bigger and better things, such as The Matrix ten years later, Reeves had his big intro to Hollywood in this film. The sight of a young Keanu Reeves acting derpy while having adventures in a time-traveling telephone booth is surreal for anyone who has seen his other movies. In later films, Keanu Reeves played disaffected or existentially tormented characters. But in this one, he plays a countercultural bum.
Another is the premise. Any movie that involves going back in time (using a telephone booth, of all things) to kidnap or otherwise abscond with various historical figures, including Socrates and Sigmund Freud, has got to have some staying power. The sheer strangeness of the premise is enough to engage modern audiences. This is compounded by the fact that all of the wacky hijinks throughout the movie are meant to culminate in something as banal as a school history project adds another layer. There’s a certain level of intentional camp here that makes the whole thing worth watching, even if you’re disconnected from the zeitgeist it emerged from.
Speaking of the zeitgeist, that is an important aspect of this. Bill and Ted are very representative, if not of the 1980s, then of how the 1980s saw itself. They’re both countercultural bums, losers, dropouts, ne’er-do-wells. The idea of two people who are so unmotivated becoming involved in something that spans recorded history is not only absurd, but has a strangely 1980s feel to it. It’s as if the movie was made for the real-life equivalents of its main characters, who could vicariously enjoy watching people like themselves become involved in adventures far outside of their own ability.
Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure is the movie that, for a lot of people, sums up the 1980s and provides the start to Keanu Reeve’s career. It’s that intentional but still effective tackiness that makes the whole thing feel endearing and, somehow, oddly comfortable. If you want to know what was going on in your parents’ or grandparents’ generation and the kind of entertainment they consumed, you could do worse than to watch this one.