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Facing "Face the Music"

The momentous, long-awaited release of Bill & Ted Face the Music has finally taken place, and your most-humble friends at Never Say Dice have undertaken this journey (of indeterminate bogusness) to discuss it with you, our truly excellent readers. By necessity, this conversation will have some spoilers, so if you haven't seen it yet, go forward in time to when you have, then come back to today and pick up right here.

Bugsy: Well, Andy, it actually exists. After rumors and legends and delays and everything else, a third Bill & Ted movie is out there in the world, and we should take a minute to appreciate that. This wasn't a cynical studio cash grab to exploit nostalgia from a long-dormant property, but a labor of love from both the series' creators and the fans, and, regardless of anything else, I'm happy that it's here and we're able to talk about it.

Andy: It is also a truly triumphant film. I may have a few small issues with it, but we'll get into that later. What it did have was nearly everything I wanted. Bill and Ted finally played their instruments well. It wasn't just guitar either. Sure, the composition of the song at Deacon and Missy's wedding ("That Which Binds Us Through Time: The Chemical, Physical and Biological Nature of Love; an Exploration of The Meaning of Meaning, Part 1") was a mess, but they were performing well enough. There were many tributes to Carlin: naming Rufus' daughter Kelly after his real-life daughter, the watch, the phone booth hologram. They knew we needed to see him and they delivered. The movie didn't exactly break the fourth wall, but they sent the message they needed to: if we can come together, everything will be okay. Not only does that lead into the credits, but the after-credits scene of nursing home Bill and Ted still rocking out together is something many of us can strive for. The movie even had a short reference to Circle K in the form of a billboard, and a callback to Station from Bogus Journey. The writers also make yet another cameo appearance as demons. About the only thing else I could have asked for would have been a solid reference to Van Halen. Issues aside Bugsy, was it everything you were hoping it would be? 

Bugsy: I went in with no expectations - after all, I said I was hoping it would keep up the tradition of presenting something different each time out. For the most part, I think it succeeded in that, although the rough process of its creation showed from time to time. There was a lot going on in Face the Music, and not just thematically. I realized, about halfway through, that this was the first time a Bill & Ted movie followed plotlines away from our excellent heroes. There were brief cutaways to Deacon and Napoleon in Excellent Adventure and to the Evil Robot Usses in Bogus Journey, but here we're presented with three different storylines: Bill and Ted trying to get the song from their future selves, Billie and Thea's quest to assemble a band of historic musical greats, and the Great Leader dealing with the Time Crisis by trying to kill the Wyld Stallyns (and Kelly trying to prevent this). I like this approach, because it shows how Bill and Ted's lives are already affecting other people (wheras the previous films were about the ways they would potentially affect people, offscreen), but it was a lot to jam into the 90-minute screentime, and Billie and Thea's story got the short end of the temporal stick. Which is a pity, because they were excellently cast and play their parts perfectly. They feel like Bill and Ted's kids, neither rehashes of their dads' characters nor unrelated cast additions (as so many protagonists' kids in sequels are), but rather their own people.

On the whole, I suspect the production was cut short by COVID, and we're seeing a not-quite done movie. I would have liked specific scenes to be shorter so that we could have more of them. It's not as much of an issue as it was in the 2016 Ghostbusters, but it does slow things down in a way that doesn't feel intentional. Dennis the Robot, in particular, seems to have had a chunk of his story cut, he starts displaying a personality suddenly without any establishing scenes, and takes "third wheel" role towards the end similar to Death's in Bogus Journey, but feels out-of-place without buildup.

Nonetheless, getting a slightly unfinished Bill and Ted movie in the current situation is nothing short of a miracle, and, as a musician myself (while some might argue that point), I very much appreciate the message at the end: "it's not the song, it's everyone playing it together." I also love the nature of Bill and Ted's "maturity" arc - it's not about them having to change who they are as people, it's about accepting that they can't do everything themselves, and that it's okay to be part of a larger whole. Lesser writers might have them get "real" jobs and grow apart from each other, but Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon know far better than give us something so heinous.

Andy: A lot of my problems were actually due to "Dennis." First of all, he most clearly isn't a robot and is in fact a cyborg. Just that one little change from robot to cyborg causes his character to make much more sense. He could even be Kelly's ex-boyfriend Dennis. His breakdown at having killed the wrong people, his desire for forgiveness, and need to participate in the music and dance. These all work so much better if he's a cyborg, and doesn't hurt any of the related jokes. The one thing it doesn't fix is what happened with the "Face the Music" USB recording of Preston and Logan. Bill and Ted clearly break it and throw it at Dennis. Then they all go to Hell in a blue killer robot blast. How did Dennis get it? It might have been better for the Princesses Elizabeth and Joanna, who saw most of this happen mind you, to have picked up the pieces. This would let yet another pair of female characters in the movie play a more active role in saving the day. Talk about getting the short end of the stick, the Princesses were barely around.

My other major problem, and this could be due to rushed release, was how they handled time travel. It seems they couldn't decide if it were multiple versions of future Bill and Ted, or the same Bill and Teds following down one path. The movie implies it is each of these things at different points. I like to think the Future Bill and Teds (Motel Losers, Song Thieves, and Prison Bullies) are all just our heroes pretending to be those things to urge along themselves to meet their wise old selves and find their destiny. This seems most possible and plausible when they "remember to do the thing." Which brings me possibly my favorite quote of the movie: "maybe we should always not know what we're doing." For all of my trepidation about issues though, it isn't any fault of the actors. As you mentioned, Bugsy, Thea and Billie were portrayed beautifully. One might wonder if they will follow in the footsteps of their actor "dads" Reeves and Winters. It isn't just them though, the casting is fantastic all around. I have no complaints there at all. While the movie may not be perfect, it's the spiritual successor that we all needed. 

Bugsy: It's gotten us this far, hasn't it? I do like the idea of them faking all the "dark timeline" stuff, that would add another level to things like Grohl Future Bill's fake accent. (I'm glad Dave Grohl keeps showing up in things we like. He seems like such a chill dude, thought, he'd probably have happily shared his song.) And Reeves and Winter seemed to have a blast playing their messed up future selves.

In a way, the movie feels like the series has come full circle. In our earlier post, I mentioned how much Excellent Adventure felt like something filmed by friends in their neighborhood and, robot costume aside, this really had that same kind of feeling. I was a little disappointed by the modern high-contrast, low-saturation palette, one of the joys of re-watching the first two movies recently was reveling in how colorful they were, but this could be another effect of being made in a hurry, and almost despite the studio system.

On the whole, I'm glad they got to make this, and I'm glad we got to see it. It was at times unfocused, particularly in the final act, but the love of everyone involved really shone through. And that's really what it's all about, isn't it? Across all three films, the friendship between our characters is never called into question, not for a second. At no point are Bill and Ted ever set against each other, which is another easy route lesser writers might have taken. For all the signature time travel shenanigans, the scene that sticks out to me the most is the couples therapy. Bill and Ted can't fathom for a second the idea of their separation, and it's a lovely echo of their proposal scene in Bogus Journey. They might be the absolute best best friends in media history, the kind of connection we all long for... especially now. And for these ninety minutes, each of us gets just a little taste of that excellent adventure.

Oh, and I quite liked "That Which Binds Us Through Time: The Chemical, Physical and Biological Nature of Love; an Exploration of The Meaning of Meaning, Part 1." 

Andy: As Rufus used to say: Sometimes things don't make sense until the end of the story. While they've said what they need to, I'm not sure we've quite seen the final version of this story yet. Even if we have, I'm more than happy with what they gave to us. Placing them in the movies, I'd have to say I think Bill and Ted are closer to being their nursing home selves than our friends from the very first movie. That is how it should be though. You are right when you say they mature in this movie. It may even be how they built the movie. Bill and Ted finally get forgiveness and understanding from Captain Logan. They forgive themselves, and put their daughters and family ahead of their own needs. They even come to terms with Death in multiple ways. I wonder if we'll see another cut of the movie in the future with additional scenes.  I'm not sure we need it though, or even want it. As you said Bugsy, all we can do is appreciate the best of best friends in media history. Once again, I'm happy to have our friendship rival that of the movies. I'm sure we could go on for several more paragraphs breaking down the movie, how we relate to it, and where we think it could go, our thoughts on characters, but the people need to discover and enjoy this on their own. Any other things we should add Bugsy?

Bugsy: Station, Andy?

Andy: Station!


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