“TONIGHT I FEEL AMBITIOUS AND SO DOES MY FOOT AS IT SINKS ON THE PEDAL. I PRESS IT TO THE FLOOR…”
“Did you hear? Mike Dexter broke up with Amanda Beckett!”
With that song and those opening words, Can’t Hardly Wait opens and we’re treated to a High School movie that, whilst not a commercial success, became a beloved cult classic. A film that ends up high on the list of High School films. A film that is reaching its 20th anniversary, and if that doesn’t make a certain Set The Tape writer feel old, then being reminded of their actual age would.
Can’t Hardly Wait arrived in 1998, when the High School genre was just about to hit a market high in terms of TV and cinema. Buffy The Vampire Slayer had just aired last year and Dawson’s Creek had just started airing on the WB. The cast of the film was also a big who’s who of up and coming names that, in hindsight, feels like the most star-studded cast ever put to film. The core six were headlined by Jennifer Love Hewitt (Party of Five, I Know What You Did Last Summer), Seth Green (Robot Chicken, Buffy, Austin Powers), Ethan Embry (Empire Records), Peter Facinelli (Twilight), Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) and Charlie Korsmo (Hook). It’s got a lot of cameos from actors you’ll recognise elsewhere: Jason Segel, Clea Duvall, Jaime Pressley, Sean Patrick Thomas, Donald Faison, Eric Balfour, Selma Blair and Sara Rue. THEN you have the uncredited cameos from Jenna Elfman, Brecklin Meyer, Melissa Joan Hart and Jerry O’Connell to name but a few. All these names: but it only got $8 million at the box office.
When you think back at the big 90s High School movies, the financial failure of the film can be tracked by the fact that it was quite tame and was just before a massive boom in the genre. The year after is when American Pie would be released and the gross-out humour would reign supreme. She’s All That, Varsity Blues and Election were all 1999. With Can’t Hardly Wait’s edits to get a PG-13 rating (all the references to being drunk and consumption of alcohol have been removed), it seems as if the audience for those comedies just weren’t there. A lot of the names in this film, aside from a few of the main cast and a few cameos, became more successful afterwards, which gives Can’t Hardly Wait a more interesting appeal in hindsight.
But what of the film itself? Following in the tradition of films like The Breakfast Club and Empire Records, it follows an ensemble cast over the course of a short period of time. This time it’s the party after graduation, where several students look to have fun whilst being worried about their future. Preston (Embry) thinks now is the time to admit his feelings towards Amanda Beckett (Hewitt) after she breaks up with Mike (Facinelli). Mike himself is now looking forward to college being a constant stream of sexual adventures, unaware he’s the target of William Lichter (Korsmo) who wants revenge for four years of bullying. Also around is anti-social Denise (Ambrose) who finds herself locked in a bathroom with wannabe gangsta Kenny (Green).
As your usual teenage fare goes, it doesn’t read as being anything special. But personally: this film has so much more going for it than what it appears to be on paper. It touches on several different things: fear of the future, lasting relationships, and even the concept of fate. Different stories all have the chance to provide a certain viewpoint that raises interesting questions. It gives the film an almost mystical feel as stories slightly overlap, and tries to convey these in an interesting way.
For example, Can’t Hardly Wait seems really dead set on trying to prove and disprove the notions of fate and destiny at the same time. The main theme that occurs through the film’s “A” plot is Preston’s attempt to reveal his feelings towards Amanda. He’s convinced that things are lining up so that he has the perfect chance to reveal his feelings based on some small moment that they once shared. Interestingly, the story kinda reveals that he’s not the only one that has that mindset, but we see his mentality and the rationale behind his feelings. But in a few key scenes, we see that he believes in the concept of fate and that things should be happening for a reason.
The film backs up that concept with the plot device that a letter that Preston wrote at one point ends up being thrown in the trash yet somehow finds itself next to Amanda. But in other parts of the movie (mainly with the William plot), things only happen because characters choose to do them. A scene with Jenna Elfman sums up the movie’s view on this: fate exists, but it only takes you so far, so the characters have to make a conscious choice to make things happen. This is effectively how the Denise/Kenny plot unfolds.
On the surface level, the movie is still brilliant. Kenny Fisher is a hilarious idiot who thinks he’s a gangsta and just continually buries himself in trouble. The supporting cast are deliberately one-note and highlight the teen stereotypes you’ll get in these films (the in-house band is a particular highlight). Characters that don’t feel real, but you’ll recognise someone similar to them if you look hard enough.
The film does delve into cliche at its climax, with a character about to head off on a train before the inevitable reunion, but by this time you’ve grown to love the characters that you’ve spent 90 minutes with. There’s a happy ending involved and a general uplifting message to take from it all.