Oddly enough, the late 90s and early 2000s saw a lot of movies about teenagers that all had strangely generic names. She’s All That, Down To You, Drive Me Crazy, Head Over Heels, Get Over It, Bring It On … the list is endless.
And then you have the 1998 graduation party-themed Can’t Hardly Wait. Can’t Hardly Wait has such a generic name that, when you first hear it, you could be forgiven for naturally assuming that it stars Freddie Prinze, Jr. Of course, if you’ve actually seen the film, you know that it features almost everyone but Freddie Prinze, Jr. This is one of those films where even the smallest roles are played by a recognizable face. In fact, there’s so many familiar actors in this film that a good deal of them go uncredited. Jenna Elfman, Breckin Meyer, Melissa Joan Hart, Jerry O’Connell, and Amber Benson may not show up in the credits but they’re all in the film. In fact, you could argue that Melissa John Hart, playing an impossibly excited girl who is obsessed with getting everyone to sign her yearbook, and Breckin Meyer, playing an overly sensitive lead singer, provide the film with some of its comedic highlights.
(That said, perhaps the most credible cameo comes from Jerry O’Connell. He plays a former high school jock who ruefully talks about how he can’t get laid in high school. He’s so convincingly sleazy and full of self-pity that you find yourself wondering if maybe O’Connell was just playing himself. Maybe he just stumbled drunkenly onto the set one day and started talking to anyone who would listen…)
Can’t Hardly Wait takes place at one huge high school graduation party, which is actually a pretty smart idea. The best part of every teen movie is the party scene so why not make just make the entire movie about the party? Almost every member of the graduating class is at this party and we get to see all of the usual types. There’s the stoners, the jocks, the nerds, and the sarcastic kids who go to parties specifically so they can tell everyone how much they hate going to parties. Eric Balfour shows up as a hippie. Jason Segel eats a watermelon in the corner. Sara Rue’s in the kitchen, complaining about how everyone’s a sheep. Jamie Pressly drinks and assures her best friend that she’s at least as pretty as Gwynneth Paltrow. (“And you’ve got way bigger boobs!” she adds, encouragingly.) Outside, Selma Blair frowns as someone hits on her with bad line.
Of course, Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli) and Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love Hewitt) are the main topic of conversation at the party. For four years, Mike and Amanda were the school’s power couple but Mike decides to dump Amanda right before they graduate. Mike feels that he’s going to have a great time in college and he doesn’t need any old high school commitments holding him down. His best friends all agree to dump their girlfriends too. Mike spends the party watching, in horror, as all of his friends go back on their promise. Amanda, meanwhile, wanders around and wonders who she is now that she’s no longer Mike Dexter’s girlfriend.
Preston Meyers (Ethan Embry) struggles to work up the courage to tell Amanda that he’s had a crush on her ever since the first day he saw her. Meanwhile, Preston’s best friend — the reliably sarcastic Denise (Lauren Ambrose) — finds herself locked in an upstairs bathroom with Kenny “Special K” Fisher (Seth Green). (Needless to say, Kenny is the only person who actually calls himself “Special K.”) Kenny is obsessed with losing his virginity. Denise, meanwhile, won’t stop talking about the sweet and dorky Kenny that she knew way back in elementary school.
And then there’s William Lichtner (Charlie Korsmo). He’s spent his entire life being tormented by Mike and he specifically goes to the party looking for revenge. However, he has a few beers and quickly becomes the most popular senior at the party. He even gets a chance to bond with Mike…
Can’t Hardly Wait is a favorite of mine. It’s one of those films that doesn’t add up too much but it’s so so damn likable that it doesn’t matter. It’s full of smart and funny scenes and all the actors are incredibly likable. If you’re not rooting for Preston and Amanda by the end of the movie then you have no heart. In fact, Can’t Hardly Wait is a lot like Empire Records. They may not be much depth to it but it’s so sincere and earnest that you can forgive it.
You can even forgive the generic name.