Wayne’s World (1992)
Director: Penelope Spheeris
Screenwriter: Mike Myers, Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner
Starring: Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Rob Lowe, Tia Carrere, Lara Flynn Boyle, Ed O’Neill, Alice Cooper, Meat Loaf
1992 was a year of returning heroes and new starlets coming to the fore. From Arnold Schwarzenegger to Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone to Julia Roberts, this was an era of marquee names and big budget extravaganzas released side by side with iconic independent films from up-and-coming filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Richard Linklater.
So where in this world of touchstone cinematic releases (see Howards End) did we go for mirth and release? Often, producers looked to studio 8H in the Rockefeller Plaza for inspiration, and the history of American comedy in the last 25 years of the twentieth century starts and ends with three words synonymous with that building: Saturday Night Live.
First appearing in the 1988 season of SNL, Mike Myers’ Wayne Campbell was an instant hit and was consequently written to be the star of a feature length film that Myers himself was a screenwriter on (alongside Bonnie and Terry Turner of ‘3rd Rock from the Sun’ fame). The film would be titled Wayne’s World, and be directed by Penelope Spheeris, a music video veteran.
Wayne’s World tells the story of arrested development young adults Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey) who broadcast a rock music public access show from Wayne’s parents’ basement. One show grabs the attention of narcissist Benjamin Kane (Rob Lowe) who offers to buy the rights to the show for $10,000. Wayne falls for Cassandra (Tia Carrere), Ben’s girlfriend and kick-ass guitarist, and multiple hi-jinks ensue as Wayne, Garth and Cassandra grow together and apart in the face of corporate America.
The 1992 film, celebrating its 30th birthday in 2022, was the veritable lightning in a bottle of ubiquitous catchphrases: “party on Garth. Party on Wayne”, “Schwing!” and “We’re not worthy” being just a few examples. Through such catchphrases and the 1990s anti-authoritarian attitudes of the so-called blowouts at its centre, Wayne’s World was the film that arguably best captured the zeitgeist of 1992, earning plaudits for how it embraced grunge and rock music in particular, whether it be Nirvana, Pearl Jam or Soundgarden.
It also vitally showcased Mike Myers’ affinity for breaking form by addressing the audience directly a la Michael Caine in Alfie (whom he would co-star with in Austin Powers in Goldmember 9 years later), and how he would willingly embrace the mayhem familiar to those who watched ‘The Monkees’ or the works of Monty Python.
The combination of original comedy, social commentary, absurdity and whimsy helped the film gross $121million in North America from a $20m budget – a huge return for a film built around a basic five minute sketch. To this day it remains the highest-grossing SNL film, and arguably one of its most memorable: the iconic scene in which the heroes headbang to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” was credited by Queen’s Brian May as rekindling the public’s love affair with the band after Freddie Mercury’s untimely early passing in November 1991.
Instantly memorable, quotable, and laugh-out-loud funny – though some of the humour and references may be stuck in a time warp – Wayne’s World remains definitively “excellent”, even at thirty years young.
Written by Jamie Garwood
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