Most teens of the 90s can tell you the first time they saw their own favorite classic 90s “teen” movie. There’s so many that detailed what it means to be an angst-ridden teen, and many of those films would result in high expectations of the high school experience.
Yesterday 20-somethings gathered all over the internet to commemorate the fifteenth year anniversary of the teen flick Can’t Hardly Wait. The film meant a lot to teens during its 1998 theatrical release.
Its lead star Ethan Embry played high school graduate Preston Meyers, (or Prestoooone, as said by a then-unknown Jason Segel). Embry’s character was a hopeless romantic who was after his one true love Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love Hewitt), but the actor had his own confession to make about his experience filming Can’t Hardly Wait. “At the time, when we were shooting that, I was the world’s biggest stoner,” said Embry. He continued, crushing the dreams of 20-somethings, “I haven’t seen the movie all the way through, and I was stoned. I never read the script. It’s about a party right? Underage kids drinking and smoking and having underage sex, right?” It goes without saying that Ethan Embry’s experience with Can’t Hardly Wait isn’t the same as the teens that sat down to watch the film in 1998.
Let’s take it back a few years. Kids born in the mid 80s could barely remember the romanticized classics like The Breakfast Club, Better Off Dead, and Sixteen Candles. While we caught TBS reruns of the films and borrowed VHS tapes, none of those movies felt like they were ours. Can’t Hardly Wait was one of our first cult classics, and we knew it even back then.
I remember exactly when I saw Can’t Hardly Wait on the big screen. It was released June 12, 1998, and I remember seeing it the day after its theater debut. All promos screamed that it would be the party of the century. Some geek exclaims during a promo “I can’t feel my legs!” also Sabrina The Teenage Witch (formerly known as Clarissa Explains It All kid) gets thrown into a pool; my excitement for the movie was tenfold. Nothing out of the ordinary happened on that day, but it was a monumental experience for me. It sticks out in my mind because I had turned thirteen a month earlier, and this would be my first legal viewing of a PG-13 film.
Adding to this occasion is that I wasn’t seeing Can’t Hardly Wait with my friends. My big sister was actually taking me to see my first “teen” film. So on a scale from 1 to 10, I was a fifteen on the cool barometer. At the time some of the jokes may have flown over my head, but I do remember laughing, because that’s what you were supposed to do. It was considered the “cool” thing to do while Seth Green’s sex-obsessed wigga-inflected Kenny Fisher was getting ready to find his ‘lucky honey” to be the one to get him laid.
The moment I knew this was the movie of my generation was when 90s it girl Jennifer Love Hewitt made her grand entrance to the night to end all high school parties. At that moment I realized sitting in a non-stadium seat, that this was MY Pretty In Pink, and it was a calling to my generation. She was the girl all of us young teen girls wanted to be in that moment; she was drooled on by everyone, and by the end of the film, she had so many romantic proclamations that by the time Preston, who claims to be her pop tart soul mate has the nerve to talk to her, she doesn’t see him for the sweet and charismatic guy that he really is.
It was our film that we could thoroughly soak up in the moment. One that we could quote at lunch the next day, and pretend as if we were all tormented tomboys like Denise Flemming (Lauren Ambrose). It had our music like the ill-fated Smash Mouth hit “Walkin On The Sun”, bombastic hip-hop of the time by Busta Rhymes, and the “broody” “Inside Out” by Eve 6. The characters were incredibly colorful, all unique with their goals and accomplishments listed in yearbook-style in the opening sequence. It seemed like there was a character for everyone to relate to. The moment the opening credits started, it felt like a special shared experience. For the first time we were invited to the most popular party of the summer, and it was definitely something to remember.
After the experience ended, the film lived on. We clung to the fashion from Kenny’s goggles, to Denise’s short haircut. It became some of our tragic and thankfully temporary staples. It was such a cult classic that it became the running formula for other teen movies to come, and was even spoofed in the 2001 Not Another Teen Movie.
Although it seemed to be the slower part of the film for me back then, Can’t Hardly Wait isn’t without its “sentimental moments.” Fifteen years later when I re-watch it my favorite moment is a very trippy appearance by Jenna Elfman as a glittery stripper angel that guides Preston back to “get the girl” instead of moping around listening to Barry Mannilow in his car. It’s overdramatic, and WTF-worthy, and all sorts of messed up, but those were the 90s, and it was mine.