Bill & Teds Excellent Adventure (1989)
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Credit: Orion Pictures 

Why Bill and Ted's timeless friendship feels revolutionary

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Sep 14, 2020, 1:00 PM EDT

Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted "Theodore" Logan (Keanu Reeves) have been friends for over 30 years, first gracing us with their presence in 1989. Standing the test of time, the BFFs have traveled across the ages and even survived death together. Now they have a new mission to save the world through song in the recently released Bill & Ted Face the Music. While they aren't the global rock stars they thought they would be, the bond between them hasn't broken. There have been plenty of legendary on-screen male friendships in notable buddy vehicles, comedies, and action films but the boundless joy and enthusiasm shared between Bill and Ted are unlike no other.

Lacking any malice, the pair embodies the notion of being excellent to each other across the trilogy. Promoting the third installment looks a lot different than what anyone had envisioned when the release date was originally scheduled for August 2020 — after a few changes, the film only came out a week later (on VOD and in select theaters). Despite the shift from in-person interviews to Zoom chats with Winter in California while Reeves sits in a hotel room in Berlin (where he is currently shooting Matrix 4), the love shared for each other and their characters are palpable.

Much of this press tour has focused on this long-running union, including Winter telling SYFY WIRE they clicked from the jump at their 1986 audition. "That happens in life very rarely, and we've remained really good friends. We have a very similar perspective. Keanu is a very smart fella, and I enjoy his intellect and the way he looks at the world. And we laugh our butts off."

Credit: Orion Pictures

A large part of Bill and Ted's deep-rooted appeal is in the wholesome and heartwarming way they treat each other. From adolescence all the way through to middle-age territory (and even old age), they never reach a breaking point. Malice and mean-spirited notions are absent, regardless of whether they are talking to each other or one of the many famous historical figures. They even win over the Grim Reaper (William Sadler).

In the first movie it was a history paper at stake — and Ted's future — while in Bogus Journey they had to find the smartest person in the universe. The latter was to stop the evil robot Bill and Ted that had been sent from the future to prevent them from winning the San Dimas Battle of the Bands. Two goofy set-ups have cemented a legacy that ensures Bill will not be remembered without Ted by his side. Unfortunately, the Wyld Stallyns did not fulfill the lofty teenage dreams, and now they play songs with titles including, "That Which Binds Us Through Time: The Chemical, Physical, and Biological Nature of Love; an Exploration of the Meaning of Meaning, Part 1" to a disengaged audience.

Credit: Orion Pictures

The annals of rock and roll are littered with former besties that have gone their separate ways due to fame (or the lack thereof) and lesser friends would've fallen out a long time ago. Fading into obscurity after a Grand Canyon concert is not going to be easy on most egos, but Bill and Ted aren't most people. Additionally, the revelatory aspect of this partnership goes back to Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure when all they were concerned about was saving Ted from military school.

In a recent joint interview with the New York Times, the subject of popular '90s dude-duo comedies like Wayne's World and Beavis and Butt-head came up, which Winter explained was part of a zeitgeist that unleashed these characters simultaneously. As heavy metal morphed into grunge as the music du jour, what makes the San Dimas pair stand out from the crowded early '90s pack is the lack of pretense on display. Not only is there a lack of self-aware posturing, but they also emanate kindness. The defining Gen-X cynicism that was about to take hold is absent in Excellent Adventure and its sequels. Ultimately, this first movie is a teen comedy that didn't stick to the trends of the era.

"The sweetness of [Excellent Adventure] struck me when I first read the script. Because of the popularity of John Hughes, it was much more common to get youth comedies that were about sex and neuroses. It was all about adult-ifying kids," said Winter. "And this was about two really good friends. There's an authenticity to that." Movies like The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink are still beloved, despite some very outdated language and character tropes that reflect the era. Similarly, to discuss the universal appeal of Bill and Ted's uncomplicated love for one another, it would be remiss if we didn't mention the one egregious moment in Excellent Adventure that is wince-inducing to hear now. After the pair are reunited in fifteenth-century England they embrace, but when they break apart they say a homophobic slur in unison. It is a stark reminder of the casual way this hateful word has been uttered, including when men show genuine emotion toward one another. There are no other incidents of this kind and the love they share is not masked by toxic male bravado again.

Source: Orion Pictures

If John Hughes had kids talking like adults, Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon created a new slacker vocabulary that still resonates more than thirty years later. To say the number 69 and not follow it up with "dudes" is nearly impossible, and words like "excellent," "bogus," "most triumphant," and "heinous" are part of the permanent pop culture lexicon. It is a language they share but at no point does it feel like an exclusionary secret code. You too can air guitar to your heart's content.

Winter noted in the New York Times conversation that the more off-the-wall 1991 sequel was born out of their real-life interactions. "Keanu and I and Chris and Ed would riff, off-camera, on all kinds of subjects. They were writing for us now, which was a benefit. We could make something that was more physical, more linguistically complicated, and plot-wise, much more far out." Rather than adults writing stylized teen-speak, the young creatives and the stars embodied this dialect. The next generation also shares this dynamic but is far from carbon copies of their on-screen dads, Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Thea (Samara Weaving) are clearly from the same family tree but possess personalities of their own.

The lack of conflict between the central duo doesn't diminish the stakes nor does it reduce the connection. Tension exists in the challenge they have been called upon to complete, a task met with the energy, earnestness, and enthusiasm of a Labrador puppy. These pals are not going to fall out because of romance or any other niggling insecurities. The one thing they know they can count on without superfluous factors digging in is the other, which is still incredibly refreshing and unusual.

Credit: Orion Pictures

Bill and Ted aren't the only successful or infectious depiction of male friendship on film, as each decade features a variety of examples. However, they do avoid the pitfalls and cliches others succumb to. In the "bromance" boom of the mid-'00s that sprung from the Judd Apatow universe — the word was first used in '90s skateboarding culture but didn't hit the mainstream lexicon until the new millennium — an acerbic edge to the man-child portrayal ensures Bill and Ted are still on this innocent mantel by themselves.

Boundless joy is a factor dominating this franchise, which is something the world needs in abundance right now. To be optimistic in the face of adversity is not always easy but with your best friend by your side, the weight that comes with a challenging landscape is lightened. In Face the Music, they get to witness different versions of themselves but they are always together. A bond that cannot be broken by age, failure, or any of life's major or minor roadblocks. At times Bill and Ted's relationship might veer into co-dependence — see the couples therapy scene — but it still possesses the unique charm that made audiences fall in love with the pair more than 30 years ago.

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