Most of the films I discuss on “Off the Beaten Path” are just that — funky little movies with way too much edge for their own good. But this week, I want to take a break and discuss something entirely different: a teen comedy.
Though “Can’t Hardly Wait” offers little more plot than the average Freddie Prinze Jr. vehicle, this film stands out because it digs just a bit deeper into the bourgeois malaise of the last week before high school graduation.
The film, written and directed by prolific scribes-for-hire Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elefonte studies a large group of high school students as their lives intersect and change forever over the course of an alcohol-drenched post-graduation house party.
The cast of players is a cross section of all easily definable clichés; there is the nerdy nobody (Ethan Embry) who wants to tell the prettiest girl in school (Jennifer Love Hewitt) that he loves her, the dumb jock (Peter Facinelli) who wants to break up with the aforementioned hottie, the jilted comic-book nerds plotting revenge against the jock, the nerdy nobody’s punkish best friend who ends up locked in the bathroom with her middle school sweetheart who is in the middle of his own desperate quest to lose his virginity. And so on.
The basic premise is typical and uninspired, and while the party might have seemed raucous to the intended audience of 16-year-olds back in 1998, it is almost quaint by the elevated standards of our alma mater. What makes this film special is the way that it sets up these stereotypes, reinforces them and then deconstructs them to display their hollow nature.
Despite a somewhat spotty résumé including such misfires as “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas” and “Surviving Christmas,” Kaplan and Elefonte do exemplary work, finding new emotional stones to turn along this well-traveled path. Their direction is far beyond the needs of a teen comedy, with ‘Scorsese-lite’ tracking shots establishing space and time between the stories. The cinematography pops with bright primary colors. And although the film is titled after one of best songs of the 1980s, the soundtrack is filled with deep-fried nuggets of 1990s nostalgia that will be sure to take you on a trip down memory lane.
For a movie that so liberally throws around the word “fag,” there is an almost philosophical tone to “Can’t Hardly Wait.” These characters have deep histories together. They played in the same sandboxes, got drunk together, got in fistfights with one another and, after the party, most of these pre-Facebook teens will never speak to each other again. Instead of glossing over this and using it as a device to explain the debauchery at hand, the filmmakers dwell on it, articulating coming-of-age fears through a variety of different lenses and perspectives.
The nimble pacing of the screenplay hops between the half-dozen or so plot threads with ease, never staying with any character too long and building up to the inevitable bust by the cops with admirable energy.
By the end of “Can’t Hardly Wait,” you’ll believe that the mathlete can become a rock star, that the jock might actually have a heart somewhere in his chest, that the girl who is too smart for the room just might be perfect for the guy who is too dumb to open the door and that the obsessive geek might actually love the prom queen for reasons other than her ample bust line.
“Can’t Hardly Wait” is a real feel-good movie. It’ll kick your graduation fears to the curb and remind you just how lucky you are to have 15 massive parties to attend every weekend so that you can finish your college bucket list before June.