The year is 2011, a young 15-year-old Hannah has just entered into a pop-punk phase filled with over-the-top side-swept bangs, bright pink hair dye, bracelets up to her elbows, and a stick-it-to-the-man attitude. Hot Topic was the go-to shopping spot and Warped Tour became a frequent Summer festivity. Looking back on my younger self, you’d think I’d be embarrassed – on the contrary, I loved that phase. It was the first time that I had used artistic mediums to cope with my anxieties and depression – two things that became all-too-familiar at that age. Movies had always held a very special place in my heart, and obviously still do, but this was a time when music took a more prominent seat in my life. Back in the day, I used to sing with a program called School of Rock (yes, JUST like the movie), that took place after school a few times a week. I had always loved to sing but hated being in the choir, so this place was just what I needed to let out all of that teenage angst. It was the perfect opportunity for me to sing the classic rock songs, and even the current pop-punk jams, that I adored and would later perform with an insanely talented group of people in various dive bars around the Twin Cities. It was my safe haven to explore my personality, embrace my weird quirks, and be around people who shared similar interests.
Need proof? Oh, I’ve got proof. --->
Man… the amount of hairspray that went into those bangs.
When I wasn’t memorizing lyrics or searching the internet for new artists to dig into, I found myself watching movies that contained stories revolving around music or musicians. I always found some way to connect with them. Perhaps it was the wave of emotions I was feeling at the time or the craving to leave Minnesota and go chase my dreams – but these movies were like a warm, fuzzy, blanket I could shroud myself in when it felt like the world didn’t understand me. Isn’t that the most angsty teenage sentence you’ve ever heard? One movie that would always brighten my day, and definitely still does, was Wayne’s World.
Wayne’s World is one of those movies that everyone has seen at least once in their life. If you haven’t, I can guarantee that you’ve at least heard of the iconic head banging-in-the-car-to-Bohemian Rhapsody scene. This movie, in my opinion, never gets old… but I gained a greater appreciation for it as I got older. When I was about 19-years-old, I had learned that it was directed by a woman named Penelope Spheeris. It was one of those facts that blew me away because I wasn’t expecting it, and it became my favorite fact to share with people. The number of times that I had heard, “no way… SHE directed WAYNE’S WORLD?” became far too many. This was one of the moments that pushed me into the direction of wanting to write more about female filmmakers and bring them further into the spotlight. I saw a familiar pattern occur last year with Kay Cannon’s Blockers – people found it difficult to believe that a raunchy, R-rated comedy could be directed by a woman. For me, I love seeing women push the boundary on what’s expected from the female perspective, especially in comedy.
Penelope Spheeris got her start by producing shorts for Albert Brooks on Saturday Night Live. This connection is what later opened up the opportunity for her to helm Wayne’s World. Directing wasn’t new territory for her, though. Prior to Wayne’s World, she had directed multiple films including two indie documentaries on LA’s punk scene called The Decline of Western Civilization Part I & II, another cult punk flick called Suburbia, and even a film with the beloved Carrie Fisher called Hollywood Vice Squad. Due to Spheeris’ vast knowledge of Metalheads, Lorne Michaels knew that she was the perfect fit to tackle this goofy ode to the ’80s and its incredible rock anthems sprinkled throughout.
Wayne’s World, based on the SNL short of the same name, follows a couple of grungy slackers named Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) who host a public access cable TV show in Wayne’s mom’s basement every Saturday night called Wayne’s World. Their little program catches the eye of a network executive named Benjamin Oliver (Rob Lowe) who wants to bring their show to prime time television. But Benjamin has a hidden agenda, and our two dudes refuse to go down without a fight... Party on.
One aspect of this movie that was ahead of its time was its fourth wall breaks. We’re immediately immersed in this in the film’s first five minutes – Wayne takes the reins and states, “let me bring you up to speed,” before hopping into the Mirthmobile, a 1976 blue AMC pacer with flames on the sides, and introduces us to his best friend, Garth. We then jump to one of the BEST scenes in the movie, and you can quote me on that, as Wayne says, “I think we’ll go with a little Bohemian Rhapsody, gentleman,” and the car breaks into full-on four-part karaoke, headbanging included, as the guys cruise into the parking lot of Stan Mikita’s Donuts. It isn't solely in these comedic moments where these fourth wall breaks exist, they seep into more of the important moments as well. From explaining the shadiness of their business deal to corporate greed to truly absurd product placements mid-scene, they add creative layers on top of the already entertaining story that keeps the humor lively and the audience intrigued.
Spheeris was passionate and familiar with the content at hand but delivered it to us through whip-smart one-liners and clever filming techniques. It’s a film that’s there to remind you that happiness exists, even in the smallest of places – Maybe that’s why it holds up so well today. There’s a freshness to these characters, but this movie isn’t here to glorify them and the decisions they make. Instead, it wants you to feel as if they’re your close friends that you can always rely on for a good time and some solid laughs.
I truly wish that Spheeris could have had her shot to expand her filmography. After the success of Wayne’s World, she got shoehorned into the comedy genre – later directing The Beverly Hillbillies and The Little Rascals. But sadly, though she tried, she never got the chance to explore other genres. It was after she directed the 1998 film Senseless that her career took a tumble and she decided to take a step back from the industry. She’s still working on solo projects, but it’s disheartening to know that someone this brilliant, hilarious, and talented isn’t being handed more opportunities. I hope that by sharing the incredible mind behind this timeless comedy that it will open up more hearts to the unlimited possibilities that stem from the female perspective.