Can’t Hardly Wait (1998)

There is a certain danger, or at least potentially contentious thing within feminism, in acting like women are different than men. There is a lot of effort to confront any claim of difference between sexes as social construction, lest we focus on something like potential differences in math scores to draw conclusions about aptitude. While the lack of women in the film industry is a problem of itself, I risk drawing the difference to say that another reason to want more women in the film industry is they can bring a refreshing change in viewpoint and often style to the proceedings.

American Pie is undoubtedly the iconic teen sex comedy of the late 90s, but Can’t Hardly Wait from the year before, co-directed by Deborah Kaplan (whose other directorial credit is the totally solid Josie and the Pussycats, really wish she would get more opportunities to direct if she wants them) stands out so much more for me as a kid who was at just the right age when these films came out. I’m not sure the film passes the Bechdel Test, but having Amanda (Jennifer Love Hewitt) and Denise (Lauren Ambrose) as two of the main characters, with their perspectives deeply respected by the film, makes a notable difference compared to American Pie, which had a number of decently drawn women, but was ultimately dominated by its men.

This film is in some sense a big statement of “It Gets Better” before it was cool (and with a touch of problematic homophobia that isn’t suitably checked). Both Amanda and Denise are paired against boys, one popular, the other not, who represent the frequent waste of high school years from a romantic or sexual perspective. The boys are neither mature and/or experienced enough to really offer anything. But with William (Charlie Korsmo) and Preston (Ethan Embry) there’s also the “Geeks Will Inherit The Earth” aspect as well. I actually believe this happy ending more for William (the Genius) over Preston (the good guy). If anything, the film’s magically happy ending is a problem. The film has some great scenes (like the Jenna Elfman cameo) that play to the idea that Preston’s baseless crush is a destructive obsession for him, so being redeemed kind of sends the wrong message.

Still, this movie remains a powerhouse for me, populated by some actors who were pretty big then and have faded and many who weren’t much then and have boomed. It has a bunch of quotable lines, with my most used being, naturally, “(concerned) I can’t feel my legs…(excited) I have no legs!” but even something like “Mike Dexter is a god, Mike Dexter is a role model” has its uses. It is just steady fun laced with all manner of adolescent awkwardness, which is the only fun I want to have.


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