Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A man goes to a Halloween party, and the host notices he’s wearing just regular everyday clothes. So, she asks what his costume is. He says, “I was a gifted child.” She replies, “but what are you supposed to be?” He answers bitterly, “I was supposed to be a lot of things.”
Bill and Ted Face the Music is one of those rare decades-belated sequels that fits like a puzzle piece into its franchise. It’s No. 1 on Amazon, and about as critical a darling as anyone could reasonably expect from a Bill and Ted film. I loved its wholesome content, superb casting, well written comedy, and heartwarming message about the magic of family and collaboration. Threading the needle of making a movie in the twenty-first century with all the progress of modern filmmaking while at the same time capturing the feeling of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s has likely never been done so well.
It’s also a metaphor for being an adult gifted child that never lived up to the potential you were promised.
I was one of the roughly 6 percent of American children that was in gifted and talented programs in school. As I am not dictating this article to my husky-voiced AI from the Space Station With One F, you can probably deduce that I did not exactly grow up to set the world on fire. Turns out, most of the time your family has to have money to do that no matter how smart you are.
Bill and Ted are clearly gifted children, albeit slackers. Don’t let the California surfer dude vibe and dedication to rock music success fool you. Throughout all three films they continuously outwit every single opponent, up to and including their advanced robot copies and future versions of themselves that already know every move they’re going to make. Death even compliments their gamesmanship when they beat him. What is Ted’s dad’s constant complaint? Not that Ted is stupid, but that he isn’t living up to his potential.
Then, the future sends them a crystal-clear message that a promised utopia is entirely based on their rock and roll dream’s success and gives them a time machine to accomplish that goal. Their every utterance, no matter how banal or inane is treated like gospel. You know, like how we do to four-year-olds who can do math problems or speak a basic sentence in sign language. Bill and Ted are near-adult versions of every child that has stood by while their parent’s showed off their mental prowess like it was a circus trick.
However, it doesn’t work out. Bill and Ted have a flash-in-the-pan stardom that quickly dissipates (the author sighed at this point and looked at the picture of himself and David Arquette on the wall for a long time). They settle into a middle age, middle class family life while still chasing their dream to the increasing frustration of everyone around them. They are loved and accepted, but aside from their daughters everyone treats them like a sick friend who is not going to get better.
I got the impression from watching Face the Music that the thing 2020 San Dimas and twenty-fourth century Earth wanted from Bill and Ted was for them to admit failure. They want to revel in their disappointment of the Chosen Ones, as if the burden of the future was something two dudes who only wanted to play music asked for. The world around Bill and Ted demands they take the fall for its own unmanaged expectations.
You can see throughout the film that the weight of the expectations is crushing the life out of everything good in Bill and Ted’s lives. Their marriages, their career, their very love of music itself all start to crack because adults, literal and metaphorical in the form of the society they are supposed to build, asked too much.
Most triumphantly, Bill and Ted find a way past that. They not only make peace with their own perfectly normal level of success in life, they realize exactly how they have made life better for their families. Without spoiling too much, reality is not saved because Wyld Stallyns wrote the perfect song as envisioned by two godlike geniuses. It’s saved through teamwork, an appreciation for every part of the allegorical symphony that is the concept of music, and a realization that success is not necessarily being in the front of the stage.
Face the Music is the final rejection of the chosen one narrative that gets heaped on too many gifted kids. Bill and Ted and me and millions of others are not responsible for the unrealized fantasies of parents and societies. Maybe Ted was on to something when instead of handing the future some incredible parable he merely said, “Party on, dudes.” By the time Ted is grown, that phrase has become a cry for help. “Stop asking me to save the world.” He was right in the end.
Bill and Ted Face the Music is in theaters now, as well as Amazon video.