Can't Hardly Wait, almost a tribute to Hughes' films.
It's graduation day at Huntington High School. With summer and college ahead of all the graduates, the senior class has one more party together, an epic house party with ample amounts of booze. With one last shot to accomplish what they want, many grads go into the party with an objective. Smart everyman Preston (Ethan Embry) wants to profess his love for Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love Hewitt), the school's hottest girl and recently dumped by star athlete Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli). A class nerd, William (Charlie Korsmo) hopes to humiliate Mike for years of torture and abuse while Kenny (Seth Green) simply wants to get some action. All sorts of hijinks and shenanigans are on the docket, and no one is immune from some trouble.
A formula for a successful teen-high school-epic party movie is simple; is it real? Is it even remotely similar to what high school is actually like? 'Wait' passes with flying colors. Sure, some things are exaggerated a titch here and there (gotta get those laughs), but directors/screenwriters Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan get it right. For most of us, high school was an extremely awkward, uncomfortable time. So when I say a successful teen comedy is 'real,' that's what I mean. Much of the laughs come from the natural awkwardness resulting from 17 and 18-year old teenagers trying to figure out who they are. Throw in a late 1990s soundtrack -- hello Smash Mouth!!!! -- with an interesting camera technique, and you've got a winner!
Stereotypes and cliches are based in the truth, right? Right??? The answer is 'Yes' if you were confused. 'Wait' runs with that thought, following a handful of characters that every high school has. Embry does a good job as Preston, the normal kid who is shooting for the stars with his crush, the hottest girl in school, Love Hewitt an ideal choice for the part. Facinelli is perfectly cast as Mike, the jock and coolest guy in school who can't wait to get to college and keep on partying. Wise choice in the script, Mike is humanized late -- however briefly -- before resorting back to his usual jock antics in the finale. Another key character is Lauren Ambrose's Denise, Preston's friend who is the necessary cute but antisocial girl who resents just about everything and everyone at school.
As good as all those parts/characters are, two parts stand out from the rest, Green as Kenny and Korsmo as William. Their characters? Green as the white guy trying for all he's worth to be a black guy, and Korsmo as the nerd who becomes a class hero at the party. Both parts are movie-stealers, both memorable in their own way. A rising star, Green hams it up like nobody's business as Kenny, a normal kid growing up who decides he wants to be a black guy. He treads that fine line between funny and offensive, but because he's so epically over the top in his mannerisms, it works perfectly. In his last role before leaving acting, Korsmo is a scream. His William so desperately wants revenge, but then he starts drinking.....and becomes popular, the life of the party. His two fellow nerds -- Joel Michaely and Jay Paulson -- have some very funny moments too as they wait too unleash William's plan.
Beyond those main characters, 'Wait' is noteworthy for its supporting cast from key parts to bit parts that only make an appearance or two. Jenna Elfman plays the Angel, a dancer, not a stripper, who Preston meets during his night travels. Jerry O'Connell is Trip, the former high school star returned in all his "glory." Melissa Joan Hart plays Yearbook Girl, the senior who wants every senior in school to sign her yearbook. Breckin Meyer and Donald Faison play bickering members of the party band. Not enough? Look out for Freddy Rodriguez, Erik Palladino, Jaime Pressly, Chris Owen (Sherminator from American Pie), Jason Segel, Selma Blair, Clea DuVall, Eric Balfour and even Hollywood veteran Reni Santoni.
So with all those characters, how does the movie do them all justice in a movie that's just 101 minutes? With a few quick departures, the entire story is contained at the house party. Episodic doesn't begin to describe the storytelling technique. Some dissenters complain about the frenetic pacing that jumps around like a story on steroids. For me, it worked really well. It never focuses on one character for too long, keeping tabs on all the characters and storylines as the party develops. They criss-cross and interact, one character and story affecting each other.
It's a gem of a movie. It's got a style that never tries too hard but does enough to set itself apart from the pack. Character title cards introduce all the main players, giving us an idea in an instant who these people are. The cards are black and white, like a mug shot, and it works well. It's the type of comedic movie where all the characters get a wrap-up comment, a couple sentences appearing on-screen telling us where everyone ends up. Almost a tribute to the 1980s John Hughes comedies, 'Wait' is a gem on its own. Definitely check it out.
Can't Hardly Wait (1998): ***/****