In the late 90’s the teen-ensemble comedy was an extremely popular genre for moviegoers. In 1998, Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan created one of the few teen comedies that can be comfortably called a classic with Can’t Hardly Wait. With a budget of around $10 million, Elfont and Kaplan successfully combined the drama of teenage romance and sophomoric shenanigans with a decent plot to create a movie that can instill a sense of nostalgia in the viewer.
Elfont and Kaplan are not well known for critical masterpieces, but when looking at their combined body of work, one can tell that they believe strongly in a sense of childhood longing. Together the duo has co-written movies such as Josie and the Pussycats, The Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas, and A Very Brady Sequel. While these movies may not ring of great plots or acting, they do have a firm connection to the past. Following in this tradition with Can’t Hardly Wait, these two writers took the best and worst of high school and made the experience fun.
The majority of the movie takes place during a graduation party where the stories of several individuals combine to create a heartfelt, funny exploration of youth. The heart of the movie, however, revolves around Preston Myers (Ethan Embry), who faces unresolved affection for the most sought after female at his school, Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love Hewitt). Facing his last night in his hometown, Preston attempts to build up the courage to confess his love at the last graduation party. Multiple minor plot threads that highlight just about every person one may have encountered during their high school career, ranging from Preston’s best friend, Denise (Lauren Ambrose), the anti-social loner to Denise’s former friend, Kenny (Seth Green) who tries just a little too hard to be cool.
It is the wide range of attitudes and personalities portrayed throughout the movie that made this enjoyable to watch as a teenager and make it enjoyable 15 years later. Each character that is highlighted during their separate portion of the movie creates an existential connection with a diverse audience. Whether the viewer was the hopeless romantic, the anti-social loner, the kid that tried too hard, the jock, the cheerleader, or the kid that got bullied, the experiences shown can inspire the subconscious to recall how he or she may have fit into the on-screen scenario. As an example, Kenny works on a plan to get laid at the party, yet it through an over-exaggeration of the archetype it becomes clear that the character is hiding his insecurities. Everyone, no matter the role they held in the social construct of high school can recall moments where their personalities may have been exaggerated to gain acceptance.
While the minor threads help maintain the universal “growing up” experience throughout the movie, it is Preston’s hopeless romanticism that holds it all together. Ethan Embry’s portrayal of a high school student trapped between the past and the future captures the ridiculousness and reality of the archetype well. As Preston moves from jubilant over-confidence, to downtrodden heartbreak, and back to an even self-confidence, the viewer can’t help but recall all the sappy love songs or dim-witted ploys they tried to pull off in high school to win over a crush.
Though the movie is dated and may seem absurd, the portrayal of each character archetype within the high school environment helps push Can’t Hardly Wait out of obscurity and into a special corner of nostalgic guilty pleasure that can’t be beat.