Keanu Korner: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Welcome to another installment of the Keanu Korner! In a sea of chaos, it is, as ever, my most sacred commission to direct you towards the kalm in the storm that is Keanu Reeves. The focus of today’s Korner is Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, likely the most famous Keanu film barring The Matrix, and for good reason. After a week of mind-boggling snow and ice in Texas, it’s probably safe to say that you’re not in the mood to stream anything particularly cerebral. Thus, my humble recommendation as a scholar of the Keanu Kanon is that you try Bill and Ted on for size, either for the first time or for a rewatch. Starring — of course — Keanu Reeves (our Reeves-son d’etre) and Alex Winter, Bill and Ted is a time-travelling romp with heart, brimming with the heady exuberance of youth.
Bill and Ted is about the escapades of the titular teens — Bill S. Preston III, Esq., the world’s best dumb blond joke played by Winter, and Ted “Theodore” Logan, imbued with boyish charm by Reeves. Though they dream of starting their own band — Wyld Stallyns, when said aloud, is always accompanied by an air guitar riff — they first have to pass their history class, or Ted will be sent off to military school. Led by George Carlin as Rufus, their futuristic guide, Bill and Ted set out in a phone booth — nothing like the TARDIS, since it grows increasingly cramped with each new character — to get some hands-on experience with history. Perhaps the best part of the film is the easy affection between Winter and Reeves, reminiscent of every really good friendship you probably had in high school — never arguing about anything more important than what to snack on after class, totally egalitarian in shared incompetence, and rarely aspiring to anything more complicated than a night out at the Circle K.
This film is the kornerstone of the Keanu Kanon because it shows off Reeves’ comedic chops to great effect. Nowhere to be seen is his oft-critiqued (and oft-misunderstood) stoicism; the young Reeves is endlessly cheerful and expressive, playing every absurd gag with utmost dedication. As Bill reads off a textbook entry about Socrates — inventively pronounced “so-crayts,” in case you were wondering — explaining that the highest wisdom is knowing that you know nothing, Ted exclaims brightly, “That’s us, dude!” (And at this point in the semester, it’s me, too.) It’s the kind of un-self-conscious lack of shame that often leads to misguided critiques of Reeves’ performances. In an industry that’s obsessed with its own importance, Reeves has never been interested in inflating the value of his craft. He’s just having fun, and he wants to bring us along with him.
That quality is what makes Bill and Ted so eminently excellent. It is not a film that takes itself seriously, and in a time where it’s pretty clear that none of us have any of the answers, Bill and Ted aren’t trying to pretend, either, which is deeply refreshing. Exemplifying this, this movie contains some of the most flagrant disregard for established conventions of time travel that I’ve ever seen. In the B&T-verse, it’s perfectly fine to go back in time to meet yourself, and it certainly doesn’t matter if you introduce Napoleon to Neapolitan ice cream or teach Joan of Arc aerobics. It’s ridiculous, but actually, so is most of life, so why not just try to have some fun?
There are a few unfortunate missteps in Bill and Ted, ranging in seriousness from a brief bout of scatalogical humor so common in teen movies of the ‘80s to the eminently unfunny running gag about Bill’s young and beautiful stepmother. And a fair warning — there is a single usage of a homophobic slur, deployed after Bill and Ted embrace each other. But overall, the good-hearted ethos that drives Bill and Ted is that of most of Reeves’ other movies — be kind, be humble, and never underestimate the power of a well-intentioned team.
This is not just an excellent vehicle for Keanu kontent — although it certainly is that — but also a message of hope and good cheer. But to spill much more ink over it would really be contradicting the simplicity of its protagonists, and thus, I believe a conclusion is in order. So, as Bill and Ted say, be excellent to yourselves and your neighbors during this difficult time, and someday soon, we’ll all be able to party on together.