ThinkMovies: Bill & Ted face the music

ThinkMovies: Bill & Ted face the music

by Alan Grant
article from Thursday 17, September, 2020

FRIENDS, I’m sorry to say that this review will require somewhat of an abnegation of my responsibilities as ThinkScotland’s resident film critic. As I am given to understand it, my role at this publication is to go to the cinema, watch a film, draw whatever broader point may be made about it, and, crucially, tell you whether or not it is, in my subjective opinion, a ‘good’ film.  

It is the last of these responsibilities that I will, alas, not be living up to with this edition of ThinkMovies because, truthfully, I have absolutely no idea whether or not Bill & Ted face the music is a ‘good’  film or not…  

A direct sequel to 1991’s Bill & Ted’s bogus journey, we find our eponymous heroes, Bill S. Preston Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted Logan (Keanu Reeves) as married middle-aged dads on the outside but the same two surf-talking numbskulls underneath and very much still on a mission to write the song that their destiny foretells that they will. After some temporal shenanigans, it turns out that this responsibility is even more pressing that it first seems and the dumb duo have to work together with their daughters, “Billie” Logan (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and “Thea” Preston (Samara Weaving) in an inter-dimensional, inter-generational, and inter-stellar adventure to the wailing of much bodacious electric guitar.  

Before I go any further, there’s more context that has to be explained. I was never hugely into the Bill & Ted movies as a kid or a young adult. That’s not to say that I had anything against them, they just never really came into my sphere of pop culture fandom. That is, therefore, the position to which I came from – a kind of well-meaning ambivalence; peppered with just a little bit of critic’s cynicism of the timing and necessity of Bill & Ted face the music.  It had, regrettably, the smell of ‘who asked for this and why now?’ about it.  

However, a cursory glance at the reviews and commentary on it provide the answer to at least one of these questions – lots of people did ask for it and enjoyed it once it was given to them. This is context that has to be borne in mind when considering whether or not Bill & Ted face the music  is a success or not and it’s context I’m not well-positioned enough to expound on with any degree of clarity.  

From my own point of view, it was ok. Some jokes fell a bit flat, some came close to the mark, and a small number made me chuckle. I understood some of the references while others, I’m aware, flew directly over my head and into the seat behind me. The characters were familiar, if not beloved, and the plot was, at least, coherent and made sense with obvious and understandable stakes raised at the right moments. In production terms, much more secure ground for me, everything looks lovely, the sets are well designed, and the effects are frenetic without being overwhelming or numbing, as they can be. Also, as is to be expected from a movie with the theme of the power of music, the sound is decent and well used. The highlight, for this Bill & Ted layman, is the finale but further discussion of that would require some heavy, almost industrial strength, spoilers of the kind that I’ve been warned about before. Suffice it to say, the emotional pay-off and denouement of the movie works well.  

I do, however, have a hunch that there’s lots that I have missed and for the good reason that I outlined earlier in this piece. Bill & Ted face the music  is a movie squarely, unapologetically, and resolutely made for fans of the other two Bill & Ted movies in mind. It’s for them and pretty much only them; casual observes like yours truly can enjoy it, sure, but that appears incidental to what it is trying to do.  

This fan service is, quite possibly, its biggest success. In an age of mass appeal, ‘everything has to be for everyone’, entertainment that quakes with fear at the prospect of one audience member not knowing what’s going on for even half-a-second, it’s refreshing to see something that knows who it wants to impress and doesn’t really care about everyone else.  

That is the point at which my appraisal of whether or not Bill & Ted face the music  works cannot proceed because, ultimately, it’s not for me to say, it’s for someone who had something invested in the series of which this is the conclusion. I, even as a critic, have no real business trying to march into the Bill & Ted fans’ treehouse and complain that I don’t get their rituals or understand their private jokes. I’m not supposed to, that, I rather think, is the point.  

So that’s it… if you’re a fan, go see it. Otherwise, it’s up to you. 

I normally dislike leaving these reviews open-ended like this but I’m afraid that’s where we are. I’ll try and have something a bit more concrete to say next week.  

Alan Grant, our resident ThinkMovies critic, can be found here with a new review every Thursday evening. @alangrantuk #thinkmovies  

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