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52 Films By Women: Wrangling The Boy's Club Of Penelope Spheeris's 'Wayne's World'

By Joe Starr | 52 Films by Women | October 26, 2016 |

By Joe Starr | 52 Films by Women | October 26, 2016 |

Wayne’s World has been a part of my DNA since well before I even understood that critiquing or discussing a film beyond ‘remember the part when Garth did Garth stuff?’ was a thing that people did. I don’t remember a time in my life when I had not seen it. Wayne and Garth, Cassandra, Benjamin Oliver and even Stacy have just always been there. Like Luke Skywalker, Jack Burton, and Optimus Prime.

So it’s actually really fun to go back and really analyze this thing that has been so important to me for so long. There is a massive pantheon of SNL movies, from Ladies Man to Stuart Saves His Family, and Wayne’s World sits on an iron throne on the weight of their VHS and DVD cases, with Wayne’s World 2 posing at its feet like a sultry slave Leia- a true comedy adaptation as different from its ‘slightly longer sketch’ siblings as Airplane is to Scary Movie 4.

If Mike Meyers is the soul of Wayne’s World and Dana Carvey its heart, then director Penelope Spheeris is the brain and muscle. Like, the muscles that aren’t the heart. It strikes me looking back at this film the monumental task Spheeris had before her.

SNL is a boy’s club, and the cast of this movie is no different. Not only are Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey present, but Rob Lowe is on the board as well. These are not easy personalities to deal with. Meyers, already a difficult man to work with, was also dealing with his father’s terminal illness.

Beyond the gender issues of a female director working with an aggressive, overly confident boys club, there’s one more major wall between Spheeris and success.

Have you ever worked with a comedian on their own project? It is among the worst things that you can do. I know this because I am a comedian, and if you even look at my tiny precious baby wrong, I will fucking never forgive you. I will go full Nancy Downs on you and you will be all those sea animals that she beaches in The Craft.

From what I understand, I’m a lot easier to deal with than Mike Meyers.

The thing about Wayne’s World is that it doesn’t feel like it’s about the SNL sketch. Wayne and Garth are characters in a film about something else. Rock n roll, the pioneering spirit of creativity, the optimism of youth, you name it. This is why it sits on the throne. These two friends are on a journey in a well crafted world, not living in a premise.

Before her trip to Aurora, Spheeris’ career highlights were two documentaries: The Decline of Western Civilization, a doc about the Los Angeles punk scene, and a follow up about the 80’s metal scene. The DNA of Wayne’s World is all over both pieces, both running over with insight and knowledge that would be the perfect marriage with a sketch about two guys doing a show in their parents’ basement.

In short, Penelope Spheeris knows her shit, and it was that confidence that carried a production that could have easily been overtaken by Meyers or Lorne Michaels at any point. With Spheeris, this movie is Crucial Taunt. Without her, it’s the Shitty Beatles.

Hollywood, of course, missed the point, as they usually do. Spheeris was anointed a hot new comedy director with Beverly Hillbillies, Little Rascals, and Black Sheep. But none of them have the passion and bite of Wayne’s World. She wasn’t a comedy director, she was just a very good director. But, if your legacy is going to be one immortal hit, you could do a lot worse than Wayne’s World. This movie is Spheeris on screen, which is even more apparent when comparing it to Wayne’s World 2, helmed by Kids In The Hall director Stephen Surjik. The sequel is an incredibly funny movie, but feels much more like a wacky comedy than Wayne’s World’s ‘rock coming of age movie that is also a comedy.’

I love this movie. I love that it is a true collaboration between a lady director and a difficult dude comedian who brought out the best in each other. Even if she had to fucking drag it out of him.

Watch Wayne’s World is available on Amazon Prime.

Check out all our 52 Films By Women picks here.