Being Excellent, and Other Lessons from Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan

Tonight, I watched Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure for probably the thousandth time. There’s a little exaggeration in that number but not much. Over the years, since I first watched this flick with three friends in a San Diego cineplex, my appreciation for the way Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves triumphantly play these two dudes has only grown.

Excellent Adventure is often dismissed as just a silly movie, and it is silly, but it’s also much more than that. It’s an adventure with a ton of peril but no conventional villain, and it’s a dangerous story in which no one gets hurt. From a storytelling perspective, that usually amounts to a yawnfest, but not in this case. In fact, whether intentional or not, it happens to be a bold story choice, so bold and effective it’s barely noticeable.

(Okay, maybe Napoleon is a bit of a villain–or at the very least he’s an intermittent antagonist–Ted’s dad’s threat of military school looms, the history report deadline is the ever-ticking clock, and that poor mannequin in the Oshman’s doesn’t fare well at the hands of Genghis Khan. But still.)

Excellent Adventure is a delightfully anachronistic history lesson that makes it seem harmlessly plausible that Socrates might’ve quoted Days of Our Lives, Joan of Arc might’ve really been into aerobics, or Abraham Lincoln might’ve been the kind of guy to yell, “Party on, dudes!” It co-stars one of America’s smartest and most gifted comedians and a guitarist from The Go-Go’s, for crying out loud. It may also have the best eighties soundtrack full of songs by people you’ve never heard of.

There’s something else worth noting, and it took me a long time to realize: Bill and Ted don’t lack intelligence. If you pay attention, you can see they’re actually quite smart. Sure, they lack focus, but so what? Who doesn’t? Despite this, they’re intuitive, creative, generous, and most of all, they’re decent, kind souls. That kindness is what’s become more obvious to me every time I’ve watched.

Imagine that.

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