Bill & Ted 3 is sort of the Chinese Democracy of sequels. It’s something constantly rumored and never delivered. One hopes that if it does get produced that it doesn’t wind up equally anti-climactic. Recently Keanu revealed a few potential story details, but there’s a huge gap between that and a film actually getting made. Here are my thoughts on why there’s a fundamental reason it’s both so appealing to dream of continuing a coming-of-age story and so difficult after your stars pass into middle-age.
Bill & Ted are part of a long tradition of low-brow comedy centering around arrested development. In classic films, heavily ‘caricatured’ Vaudevillians were mainly based on this model.
Someone like Will Ferrell is a modern version. His entire schtick from Elf onward seems to be based on the oddness of a child’s mind being trapped in an adult body. So the only real difference is the material’s self-awareness.
Intentional or not, there’s are certain philosophical questions at the heart of Will Ferrell’s roles, which is: why is it that as you age you need to “act your age”? At what age do you become too old to…wear certain clothes, listen to certain music, or behave a certain way?
While it’s true that you can be a successful older comedian, certain flavors of comedy seem inextricably linked with youth. The fortunes of both Jim Carrey and the late Robin Williams seemed to wax and wane with their age. When Carrey finally relented to make another Dumb and Dumber movie, the film bombed, and a big factor in that is a certain visceral cringe-factor of seeing characters who now don’t look so much like symbols of man-children but simply the mentally disabled.
The fact is that a certain brand of comedy is really more of an outgrowth of the trouble we all tended to get into as kids. Take Harold and Kumar for instance. As they get older one can imagine them settling into the Cheech and Chong stoner trope more and more, and yet to do that it requires that they avoid settling into the sort of family and career stability that most people eventually do with time.
Back to the Future 2 explored the idea of revisiting Marty in middle-age, but it did so by aging Michael J Fox forwards. The story was still framed within McFly as a young person (even though Fox himself was on the verge of looking too old to be a convincing teen).
It’s far easier to conceive a continuation of the youth characters in middle-age in a drama rather than a comedy.
There’s also a clear distinction to be made between coming-of-age characters coming back in mid-life and adult characters.
Is Galloping around the cosmos a “game for the young”?
An adult character, even a young one, has reached a modicum of maturity. The appeal of coming-of-age characters is their naivete. This was especially true of Bill & Ted who were a caricuture of Reagan Era ignorance in which everything they knew came out from pop culture. While you could say as Idiocracy continues apace that the social commentary simmering within Bill & Ted is more topical than ever, you’d think 30+ years would have eventually taught them a thing or two. In fact the entire premise of Bill & Ted 2 was to impress upon them the importance of finally wising up, placing their history lesson in apocalyptic terms. To have them revert back to their ignorant slacker selves would be to turn their backs on what little of a character arc they were given.
It’s also hard to imagine these two, frozen in their current incarnation, being anything beyond totally dysfunctional parents. So I don’t see how they can really pass the torch to the next generation. On the flipside, if they are allowed to mature, then they’ll lose the charm that made them successful in the first place.
The fact is that the older self begins to engulf the inner-child in such a way that you both miss it and yet it becomes increasingly out-of-reach.
Other films like Something Wicked This Way Comes and Cocoon tackle the issue of lost youth more successfully, both those were dramas.
So what I’ve just described above is the very reason WHY the screenplay for Bill & Ted 3 has been gestating for years and years. It’s trying to solve a cosmic problem that really can’t be solved, which is that you can’t unwind the clock.
The reason why the work continues anyway is the same reason Ponce de Leon went searching for the fountain of youth. Growing old is inevitable and yet it drags us kicking and screaming into a new reality. In that respect, posting to this blog is an outgrowth of me attempting to recapture some of my youth by retracing my life as a 70s and 80s couch-potato, relating my thoughts on old B-movies for future generations as if it were actual wisdom.