I graduated from high school in 1997. That year is beginning to seem ancient to me. Fun fact, though: I was supposed to graduate the following year. Rather, I decided to enroll in a program that allowed me to matriculate through high school in three years instead of four. This was not the result of any true brilliance on my part, but because I was afforded the opportunity to make up classes during the summers and get ahead in my studies. Either way, Can’t Hardly Wait came out the year I was supposed to graduate, and I feel a certain kinship to the era captured in it.
What I do not feel a kinship to in Can’t Hardly Wait is the drinking and debauchery it features. The main setting for the film is a high school graduation party for seemingly the entire graduating class hosted by one of the apparently more well-off alumni. The big news on the eve of this party, spread through the ceremony, is that the most popular girl in school, Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love Hewitt), has been dumped by the most popular guy in school, Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli). This revelation piques the interest of Preston Meyers (Ethan Embry), the shy, literate, sensitive type who has harbored a crush on Amanda since their freshmen year. This provides the impetus for Preston and his friend Denise Fleming (Lauren Ambrose) to attend the soiree against their original misgivings, spurred on by Preston’s desire to finally reveal his feelings to Amanda. In the midst of the revelry gradually careening towards chaos, Preston attempts to muster up the courage to declare his love for Amanda. Meanwhile, Denise gets separated and locked in a bathroom with Kenny Fisher (Seth Green), a former friend of hers who spurned her when he became popular; nerdy kid William Lichter (Charlie Korsmo) becomes inebriated and loses sight of his planned revenge on Mike; and everyone else seems bent on either getting drunk or laid or both, and generally succeeding in these endeavors, all until the police eventually show up and settle things down. All except for Preston, who remains fixed on giving Amanda a letter that explains his heart. There are a series of starts and stops in accomplishing this endeavor, and he is never able to personally deliver his message, though fate (a key feature in this film) gets the missive into her hands. Though she initially mistakes him for somebody else, she eventually catches up with him the next day as he is leaving for a summer college program. Presumably they live happily ever after.
I believe that the makers of Can’t Hardly Wait were well aware of them not having a truly original idea on their hands, and made some unfortunate decisions as to how to dress it up a bit and make it appeal to a younger audience. I do not care in the least for any of the partying going in the film. Call me a square, but I never did anything like this when I was in high school. Some of it is chuckle-worthy, which is what they wanted. I laughed it at more when I was younger. These days, I just roll my eyes and sigh at most of it. One part, though, that I am willing to bet the producers wish they could take out is the gay bashing that goes on. Given the progress we have made in bringing awareness to these issues, the scene where Mike is called a “fag” and everyone laughs is appalling. There is also the part where Mike and William are entrapped in a gay embrace (not on purpose), having pictures taken of them in this compromising position, and those pictures being potential blackmail. Between these and the profligacy, there is little to recommend this film.
What brings me back to Can’t Hardly Wait occasionally is Preston’s quest to win over Amanda. It is shorn of any sort of aggression or innuendo, and he is completely sober throughout. It reminds me of old fashioned courtship that praises a lady’s personality and intelligence rather than just physical features. Mary is venerated by Catholics not simply because she is beautiful (though she is), but due to the perfect love she has for Jesus. While Preston’s love is imperfect, being human after all, it comes much nearer the mark than any of the other “relationships” the film gives any attention to during its runtime.
I do not really recommend watching Can’t Hardly Wait under any circumstances. It had been a long time since I watched it, and was shocked by it in many respects. I suppose this is the result of selective memory (idealizing Preston’s approach to Amanda) and my own progression in my faith. Thus, consider this review a warning, if nothing else.