Movies based on sketches have mixed results, don’t they? The Nan Movie with Catherine Tate looks to have achieved just $2.2million dollars at the Box Office amidst poor reviews. Whereas Kevin and Perry Go Large did slightly better, even if reviews were mixed. Over the pond in the US, American comedy powerhouse Saturday Night Live has churned out several movie spin-offs based on its characters, originating with 1980’s The Blues Brothers and leading up to 2010’s MacGruber.
There are many, many other examples that can be tucked into and dissected, but fairly early in SNL producer Lorne Michaels’ quest for movie magic, the sketch Wayne’s World was mined for potential as a movie. With stars Mike Myers and Dana Carvey, the movie would propel the simple premise into its own fully fledged world to critical and commercial success.
It’s a simple premise of a sketch, with two young adults presumably out of high school making a Public Access chat show from their parents’ basement. Original sketches would show Wayne and Garth interviewing residents of Aurora, Illinois that were usually played by SNL’s featured guest host that week, as well as mixing in rock/metal fan clichés of the time. One famous sketch features Tom Hanks as a fellow friend whilst Aerosmith interact with Wayne’s mum upstairs in the kitchen.
When it comes to the film, the basic premise works with the opening scene being the kind of situation that you’d have seen on the show. But the world broadens out, seeing Wayne’s friends and the fact that the show is quite widely seen around the local area. It comes to the attention of advertising executive Benjamin (Rob Lowe), who wants to use the show to sell advertising from rich arcade mogul Noah Vanderhoff. In the process he tricks Wayne and Garth into selling the rights to the show whilst making the moves on Wayne’s new girlfriend Cassandra (Tia Carrere).
The movie uses that as an excuse to play out some silly jokes, some clever jokes about corporate sponsorship, and just have some fun. Wayne and Garth often break the fourth wall to talk to the audience; at one point Ed O’Neill talks breaking the fourth wall and Wayne has to remind everyone that only he and Garth should be able to do that.
There are slight deliberate breaks in consistency and continuity, including a key joke about product placement that sees Wayne and Garth complain about Vanderhoff’s appearance on the show and “bowing down to sponsors” whilst eating Pizza Hut, Doritos and wearing clothes with highly visible Reebok logos. It’s a clever way of delivering the joke, making a point and keeping in line with the humour the movie has. The ‘Stairway to Heaven’ joke where Wayne goes to play ‘Stairway to Heaven’ by Led Zeppelin but is denied, and a guitar store employee points to a No ‘Stairway to Heaven’ sign ended up being a lot more complex than intended, creating its own (and arguably better) punchline that differs from its original intent.
Even with these jokes, there’s still some cultural impact that Wayne’s World has delivered, that arguably still has some impact today. The chief one would be the resurgence of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ reaching the UK Official Singles Chart at #1 around the time of the film. A scene where the characters lip-sync to the song in a car became popular and practically viral decades before it was possible for anything to be viral pre-internet. A scene where characters head bang to a certain point influenced many a rock club-goer to head bang to that moment.
The characterisation of Wayne and Garth serves as 90s extensions to the rock/metal stereotype of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’s mould of well-meaning but not-too-bright rock and metal fans. Wayne and Garth aren’t as “dumb” as Bill and Ted are initially said to be, but are intelligent in their own way; relatively harmless but are well in their own subculture. It’s mainly social skills that appear to be the issue (at least for Garth). There have been several commentaries online that link these characters together, and for the 90s, Wayne and Garth served as more positive examples of the stock character-trope of heavy metal music fans evolving through time.
Myers and Carvey would return (sans director Penelope Spheeris) for Wayne’s World 2, which didn’t do as well as its predecessor, but has a slightly higher Rotten Tomatoes rating. The sequel might just be a little better than the first film, containing more memorable moments. Saturday Night Live would try more times to adapt sketches to lesser success. Coneheads is fondly remembered from 1993, and the aforementioned MacGruber also did okay. The fact that the latter now has a TV spin-off says quite a bit about the longevity of the character.
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From the success of Wayne’s World, Myers would go on to create Austin Powers and play the Bond-spoofing character for three films, and then voice the title character in the Shrek-franchise. Carvey would do other films, not really reaching the success of his co-star (although Clean Slate is well worth a watch), and even getting the very low-rated-on-rotten-tomatoes film Master of Disguises on his CV.
Despite the varying success of the main duo’s careers (although that Rob Lowe has done quite well for himself since), Wayne’s World maintains a surprising relevance and look into early 90s culture. Well worth a watch if you’ve not caught it yet.
Wayne’s World was released in the UK on 22nd May 1992.