Today! Because I can’t feel my legs. I HAVE NO LEGS!
Can’t Hardly Wait (1998)
Directed by Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan
Starring Ethan Embry, Lauren Ambrose, Charlie Korsmo (x3), Jennifer Love Hewitt, Peter Facinelli, Seth Green, Jenna Elfman, Freddy Rodriguez, Sean Patrick Thomas, Breckin Meyer (x2), Donald Faison, Melissa Joan Hart, Jerry O’Connell, Channon Roe, Joel Michaely, Jay Paulson, Jaime Pressly (x2), Tamala Jones, Jennifer Lyons, Chris Owen (x2), Jason Segel (x2), Clea DuVall (x3), Eric Balfour, Selma Blair, Sara Rue (x2), Reni Santoni, Alec Ledd, Erik Palladino, Alexander Martin
I’m not sure if people realize what a mind-blowingly great movie Can’t Hardly Wait truly is. Seriously, I think this just gets lumped in with the other nonsense high school comedies of the time – your She’s All Thats and American Pies and Never Been Kisseds – or worse yet, the non-John Hughes shit teen comedies of the ’80s – and summarily forgotten. There is no greater crime in cinema history than the degree to which Can’t Hardly Wait is overlooked!
Okay, that’s probably taking it a bit far. But I do madly love this movie, beyond most reason. Sure, it came out in the summer of ’98, with me only a year removed from high school at the time, but I didn’t see it until years later. It had no significant impact at the box office – getting edited down to a PG-13 and dropped in theaters the week between The Truman Show and The X-Files movie (which doesn’t sound like much, but those both made a ton of ’98 dough) – grossing a mere $25 mil, good for 74th on the year. So what the hell business does a PG-13 high school comedy even have being on this list? Who the hell was this aimed at? How did I ever see it?
Frankly, not sure. Cable, I’m guessing. But I feel like this is a movie me and my younger sister watched all the time when I was in college. We both went to Keystone, overlapping for a period of time, and then later lived together again sans our parents, where we would frequently watch silent movies on Sunday nights. But apparently, we also got way into Can’t Hardly Wait. Because it’s incredible.
There are a bunch of legitimate main characters, all with storylines sort of intertwining at this graduation party, but many with no interaction whatsoever. Figure, Preston (Embry) arrives with Denise (Ambrose) in order to profess his love to Amanda (Hewitt). Denise ends up locked in the bathroom with her childhood friend Kenny (Green), who is at the party basically just to get laid. Amanda has just been dumped by Mike Dexter (Facinelli), breaking up the school’s power couple, while William (Korsmo), the valedictorian, is at the party to get revenge on Dexter for years of torment. And there are, no exaggeration, like a dozen other characters of note, and countless one-off folks adding color. The entire parallel action tale moves expertly through the night – never flagging, never too far afield – with hilarious complications and unexpected turns, for this sort of movie.
In any film like this, if the main guy is in love with a girl in a relationship, they have to confront the boyfriend, especially when that other person is an enormous dick, as is the great Mike Dexter, right? Except Preston and Dexter never even appear on screen together. Similarly, being I guess who could be classified as the main antagonist, Dexter also needs some level comeuppance, especially considering the entire reason the very likable William is at the party is to do just this, right? But that never really happens in the course of the film either. These are isolated examples, but the fact that these weathered tropes are so totally discarded is indicative of the terrific comic unfolding of this movie.
Would the R-rated version have been that much better? I’m guessing not. Having read somewhat extensively what the original cut of this movie was, it seems that most of the excised material and characters were just drunker or higher – not that the content was aggressively more lewd or vulgar. It kinda reads like if this was made today, it probably wouldn’t have pulled an R at all. But the fact that such massive edits were made and the resulting movie is this good tells me that the forced tightening of the story actually helped it achieve the monumental greatness we all know and acknowledge.
Because we should. This goddamn thing is lightning in a bottle that I don’t think could be replicated, even though people continually try. You’ve got a few amazing child actors growing into adult roles – Embry, Green, Korsmo – and a ton of current and future television actors making solid big screen turns – Ambrose, Hewitt, Hart, Pressly, er, also Green. Three Can’t Hardly Wait cast members – Ambrose, Rodriguez, and Balfour – went on to star in one of the most acclaimed dramas of all time, Six Feet Under, while the brilliant Peter Facinelli added some much needed grounding in that nonsense vampire series Twilight. This was also the final film for the genius Charlie Korsmo, while also being his first film since Hook, before abandoning films, to all our eternal regret.
I obviously could write about this movie to excessive length (too late!), so I’ll stop here, but seriously, if you’ve long disregarded this movie based on the above poster and your own preconceptions, I cannot urge you strongly enough to watch Can’t Hardly Wait, a few dozen times, and buy the t-shirt.
The other thing that freezes this movie in time for me is that so many of the actors only exist in this film, as far as I’m concerned. Look at that huge group up there – and so few Two- and Three-Timers, and no one above that! It’s to the point whenever I see anyone from this movie in anything, I point them out as “That’s the Reminiscing Guy from Can’t Hardly Wait!” or “That’s the girl calling everyone sheep in Can’t Hardly Wait!” Except maybe Korsmo, who’s forever the kid from Dick Tracy.