Wayne's World

(Penelope Spheeris, USA, 1992)


Wayne's World is not the kind of movie that most self-styled serious reviewers like to spend much time with. It has been described as silly, amusing, clever, even heartily enjoyable – but ultimately rather slight. This has a lot do with the fact that it is a teen movie, one which makes almost no concessions to the respectable, adult world.

Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) are two working class teenagers who broadcast their own rough-and-ready program from down home onto public access cable television. They crack sick jokes about babes, partying on, kitsch TV shows, and their parade of dorky guests.

The plot – for want of a better word – involves a sinister TV executive (Rob Lowe) who lures Wayne and Garth into the mainstream with the promise of fame and money.

Australian viewers, unacquainted with Wayne and Garth's origin on the American television show Saturday Night Live, may mistake the film for a clone of the Bill and Ted teen movies. But Wayne's World is highly inventive, and its heroes memorably distinctive.

It is certainly not a glamorous, high-energy fantasy in the manner of Back to the Future (1985) or Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986). Wayne and Garth are dags, and the film shapes itself to their laid-back, cock-eyed rhythms. Much of the film is devoted to everyday pleasures, like cruising in cars whilst singing along to favourite songs and taking in the strange sights of suburbia.

Wayne's World also has a cartoonish, whimsically unreal side. The characters freely talk to the camera, indulge in crazy reveries, and merrily flaunt every cliché of the script. Especially wonderful are the sequences that launch into pastiches of everything from Laverne and Shirley to Pepsi commercials.

The film is an apotheosis of the current, widespread obsession with pop culture. Every move, line and situation occurs in relation to a precise cultural reference – as if Wayne and Garth's formative life lessons came from watching Star Trek and listening to Jimi Hendrix. In fact, the film is virtually an anthropological document on the lifestyle and tastes of teenagers who voraciously consume a particularly light and breezy form of heavy metal music.

Director Penelope Spheeris (whose previous teen movies have tended towards the violent and the bizarre) has finally scored a commercial success with this film. She delivers a heady brew of populism and surrealism, political correctness and vulgarity, irony and affection. Wayne's World is one of the best, most original films of the early '90s.

MORE Spheeris: Black Sheep, Dudes, Suburbia

© Adrian Martin July 1992

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search