What would 80s or 90s mainstream cinema have been without the classic cliche high school movie? It seemed that another teen-centric comedy premiered every other week, each one more ripe with angsty teenage stereotypes than the last. Critics may not have thought much of the genre, but tweens and teens ate it up, upholding the franchise by not just seeing the movie but by buying the soundtrack and quoting the most inane lines over and over again to their friends.
Anyone who's ever been, met, or even seen a teen from afar can tell you that teen movies are absolutely nothing like real life in high school, but they do make for an amusing story. High school movies represent not the way things are but the way we might wish they were. If we desired a slew of 28-year old classmates, that is.
Can't Hardly Wait was a mishmash of every well-worn teen movie cliche, giving us the ultimate cross-section of clearly defined high school cliques as perceived by the middle-aged adults who make profitable teen movies. It's as if they took VHS copies of every John Hughes film ever made, put them in a blender, and minced it on the highest setting. All of the most prevalent teen movie tropes were there: unrequited love with the unattainable girl, revenge of the nerds, reconciliation of friends torn apart by cliquishness, and of course all the jocks, brains, and class clowns you can handle.
Wow, two Third Eye Blind songs in a single trailer. Well played, Columbia Pictures
The only real unique attribute of the movie is its setting and scope: it takes place within a single evening at an end-of-the-school-year graduation party. Flashbacks and awkward staged recap conversations fill in some of the blanks on the context front, but the main focus of the movie is the party. Magically, the whole class got invited to this party, despite the fact that some are obvious misfits or miscreants who have never socialized with the normal kids.
The major storyline of the movie surrounds Preston (Ethan Embry) and his pathetic-but-sort-of-endearing puppy dog crush on popular girl Amanda (Jennifer Love Hewitt). Amanda has been freed from her football player dating chains of her entire high school career, and Preston believes it to be fate. It's kind of cute that he thinks this huge blowout party would be the perfect setting at which to profess his undying love despite the fact that he's never spoken to her. He does, however, seem to have a database of arbitrary memories of their near-miss encounters throughout high school. I'm sorry, did I say cute? I meant creepy.
Don't you like the way the filmmakers assume we're all really slow readers when they put those yearbook-style info boxes up on the screen.
Meanwhile, our wannabe gangster pal Kenny (Seth Green) vows to lose his virginity that night in classic American Pie ultimatum fashion. Kenny prefers to be called "Special K" which we can only assume is his non-Caucasian alter ego. There's really no alternative legitimate explanation for his faux-ghetto dialect, especially considering he's an upper middle class white boy who hails from suburbia central. He adopts this affectation as his allegedly cool persona, but overall it's pretty painful to endure.
On the other end of the social spectrum, nerd William (Charlie Korsmo) and his pi-reciting lackeys are out to bruise the ego and reputation of big man on campus and Amanda's former flame Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli). Unfortunately, his intricate revenge plans are thwarted by his own intoxication at the party. In this-never-happens-in-real-life-but-we'll-go-along-with-it-for-a-movie style, William becomes the belle of the ball, even gracing us with an impromptu Guns and Roses performance. Because that's a good wholesome message for kids. If you would only loosen up and drink a bit, you'll be cool. Who says teen movies don't have important moral lessons?
Finally, Preston's friend and confidante Denise (Lauren Ambrose) comes along grudgingly for moral support and ends up in a worst-nightmare situation: locked in a bathroom with Special K himself. We learn Denise and Kenny were best friends as children until he got too cool and ditched her. Burn. Ditched by a guy who wears goggles as a fashion statement. That's got to hurt. Anyway, one thing leads to another, and they end up having sex. Like people do, you know. It's pretty much the only option.
All sorts of other crazy shenanigans ensue, shananigany enough to include Amanda getting hit on a by her overly-hormonal cousin. Yikes. Amanda discovers the much-revised Preston love declaration letter on the ground. She has no clue who she is so she looks him up in the yearbook only to realize you totally blew him off just moments before. Amanda pulls a classic rush-to-meet-your-love-right-before-they-leave-forever moment by rushing to the train station, and it's pretty much happily ever after from there on out. We get a little "where are they now?" snippet at the end, and it seems everything worked out just peachily for the good guys and the bad guys got all sorts of comeuppance.
So it may not be the most realistic depiction of high school, but it's certainly an entertaining one. After all, there's a reason they don't make movies about real live high schoolers. They're just not that interesting. Plus, we get a kickass 90s soundtrack in this version, whereas real high schoolers are generally lacking in the theme music department. Show me a real high school student whose exploits are well-timed to Smash Mouth and Run DMC and then we'll talk. s