nder no circumstances should Wayne’s World have been good, let alone great. Movies based on Saturday Night Live sketches are notoriously atrocious. From The Coneheads to It’s Pat to Stuart Saves His Family to A Night at the Roxbury, SNL films routinely appear on lists of the worst ever made. In fact, the only other movie based on a Saturday Night Live sketch that people usually admit to liking is The Blues Brothers, though no one can deny the ridiculous excellence of Will Ferrell playing a flamboyant Greco-Roman wrestler named Lance DeLune in The Ladies Man.
While nearly all films with SNL roots have been met with both critical and consumer revulsion, Wayne’s World was a resounding box office and critical sensation, for reasons that aren’t apparently obvious. After all, the film was based on a seemingly inane sketch about two heavy metal fans with a cable access show in Aurora, Illinois. Going into pre-production, all anyone could’ve gleaned about the film’s protagonists, Wayne and Garth, was that they liked Claudia Schiffer and Aerosmith. I think everyone involved knew from day one that this wasn’t an adaptation of The Great Gatsby.
But rather than mimic the simplicity of the flimsy television sketches it was based on, the screenwriters of Wayne’s World followed Hunter Thompson’s old adage: when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. Because if anything, Wayne’s World is weird, beginning with its subject matter: two Led Zeppelin-loving cable access show hosts from upstate Illinois. And using that idea, the filmmakers created a movie so deliriously odd that Robert McKee, author of the screenwriter bible Story (and of Adaptation fame), cites Wayne’s World as the epitome of an absurd comedy.
The movie’s plot is pretty simple: boy meets girl, loses girl, gets girl, filled to the brim with sly jabs at American pop culture. Whether it’s lampooning Mission Impossible, Terminator 2, Laverne and Shirley, or its casting of then-Married With Children star Ed O’ Neill as Glen, the homicidal manager/counterman of Stan Mikita’s donuts, Wayne’s World never quits cracking jokes at all the clichés that most movies lazily get away with. This is best displayed at the end of movie, when Wayne (Myers) tries to win his girlfriend, Cassandra (played by Tia Carrere), back by bursting into a long-winded, teary, and nonsensical speech as the words “Oscar Clip” mockingly flash on-screen.
Indeed, the film’s DNA is nothing but pure absurdity. From its multiple endings, including a Scooby Doo ending and a “feel-good ending,” to the fact that it portrays Alice Cooper as a scholar of Milwaukee history (after all, the name Milwaukee is really Algonquin for “the good land”), or how Wayne, in a matter of days, magically learns Cantonese to impress Cassandra, the filmmakers lets you know that they’re also in on the joke. But when push comes to shove, the real secret to Wayne’s World’s brilliance is simple: it’s funny. There are few more hilarious buddy duos in history than Mike Myers and Dana Carvey. Though he’ll probably always be best known as Austin Powers, Myers’ Wayne Campbell was the role which first showcased his ability to spout quotable one-liners (the consequences of which led most 1992 8th grade teachers to turn to Valium (instead of Nuprin)).
The criminally underrated Dana Carvey also deserves a great deal of praise for his performance as Garth Algar. Though Carvey’s career never soared as high as Myers’, it wasn’t from a lack of talent. His eponymous 1996 television show is one of the funniest shows you’ve never seen. Then again, it did boast probably the most talented writing staff in TV history, including Steve Carrell, Carvey, Dave Chappelle, Louis C.K., Stephen Colbert, Charlie Kaufman, and Robert Smigel. Yet it’s for the role of Garth that Carvey will forever be remembered. Rather than just play Garth as a straight nerd, Carvey’s character is rather complex in a very bizarre way. In the course of the film, he manages to bust out an incredible drum solo, seduce “Dreamweaver” (Donna Dixon), and realize that Rob Lowe’s character, Benjamin Kane, was trying to sleep with Cassandra.
Most great comedies are subtle and dry (Waiting for Guffman, Election, Rushmore) or over-the-top farces (Old School, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, National Lampoon’s Animal House). Wayne’s World is the rare exception that manages to be both. There’s plenty of comic nuance on display, like the sign posted in the music store that reads “No Stairway to Heaven” or the fact that at Noah’s Arcade, Noah claims that there’s “no lines since there’s two of everything.” This is that rare classic that you can love at 13 years old, revisit it a decade later, and find that it’s actually better than you remembered. There’s more to it than one might think. Go ask the folks who made The Coneheads.