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It’s been 20 years since the beer went bad and the teen movie genre received one of its best additions with Can’t Hardly Wait. The little movie that could was made for $9 million and while it wasn’t a huge earner at the box office, it ended up with cult movie status thanks to fans later discovering it through video rentals. Written by Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, the film is a who’s who of mostly unknown teen actors at the time, with many going on to have impressive film and TV careers.
Set over 12 hours on the last day of high school and culminating in a huge graduation party, Can’t Hardly Wait starred Ethan Embry as hipster before hipster was a thing Preston, and his best friend, the cynical Denise, played by Lauren Ambrose. Jennifer Love Hewitt was Amanda, the girl everyone in high school loved, including Preston, with Peter Facinelli as her meathead ex-boyfriend Mike Dexter. Child actor Charlie Korsmo played nerd William, while Seth Green delivered one of his most hilarious and memorable roles as clueless Kenny, the white kid who quoted rap music and had no idea what it meant to be woke.
In addition to the film’s leads, Can’t Hardly Wait also included an impressive supporting cast, including Clea Duvall, Jaime Pressly, Sean Patrick Thomas, Donald Faison, Selma Blair, Jenna Elfman, Jerry O’Connell, Melissa Joan Hart, Breckin Meyer, and Jason Segel, whose role was so small he’s credited only as the ‘Watermelon Guy.’
After 20 years, not everything in the movie has aged well. The use of a homophobic slur to shame football player Mike Dexter is the movie’s biggest downfall, as is William’s plan to take pictures of Mike looking like he’s gay as a way to exact revenge. Preston’s unrequited love of Amanda is based primarily on her looks and mutual love of Pop Tarts, but in high school, sometimes that’s all you need for a crush. While the movie isn’t perfect and has problematic aspects, there are still some truly great moments in teen film genre history.
Whether a movie is made in 1958, 1998, or 2018, one theme that is always accurate is the pressures faced by high school kids. Whether it’s having enough money to buy a cool pair of shoes or dealing with pressure to have sex, high school is varying degrees of difficult for anyone who throws on a backpack and tries to memorize the code for their locker. In the lead up to Denise and Kenny’s hook up, the two discuss their falling out in junior high, when Kenny stopped hanging out with Denise because her parents didn’t make much money and the other kids teased her. It’s one of the most genuine and relatable moments of the film and touches on the difficult transition of childhood friendships to high school.
About five minutes after Mike Dexter publicly breaks up with Amanda Beckett, she’s simultaneously shamed for being dumped and hit on by every guy in school, including her cousin. Mike becomes a hero, while Amanda is a target. Thankfully, she’s able to not only fight off the creeps, but also stand up for herself in front of Mike and literally everyone at the party.
What’s a teen movie without the archetypes of the popular girl, the jock, the rebel, the outcast and the geek? Although cliques look different today than they did 20 years ago, they still exist and finding a group you can belong to is still just as important.
A teen movie lives and dies by its soundtrack and thankfully for Can’t Hardly Wait, its got a collection of tracks that act as a snapshot of 1998. From Blink 182’s “Dammit” blaring at the start of the party to Smash Mouth’s “All Star” being really cool at the time, there was a song for everyone. Preston and Amanda’s kiss to Yazoo’s “Only You” is responsible for thousands of Napster and Limewire downloads.
Preston’s crush on Amanda is the main thread that weaves the various stories of Can’t Hardly Wait together, but the best relationships from the film are the friendships. Preston and Denise are best buddies who routinely call one another out on their BS, while still being emotionally available for one another. Then there’s the high school band that breaks up and makes up at the grad party, and Amanda’s friends who are supportive (to an extent), representing the epitome of fairweather friends. Plus, we can’t forget Melissa Joan Hart and Sean Patrick Thomas finding friendship over their shared love of preserving high school memories. Finding your people is always important and that’s definitely true for high school.
Sure, Preston and Amanda’s relationship was based on a strawberry Pop Tart and yeah, Preston idolized the head cheerleader who was rebounding after spending four years dating that jerk Mike Dexter, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love a happy ending. Ethan Embry’s role as leading man Preston was unconventional at the time, considering the actor was then best known as the eccentric, Gwar-loving, not-really-love-song-inspiring Mark from Empire Records. Embry’s role as the slightly nerdy everyman gave viewers an underdog they could relate to and root for throughout the film. We may not have had Adam Brody’s Seth Cohen, Nick Robinson’s Simon Spier, Donald Glovers’ Troy Barnes, or John Krasinski’s Jim Halpert without Embry’s Preston paying the way.