Can’t Hardly Wait is a film revolving around a group of teens hanging out at a party the day of high school graduation. They all have a single purpose in being there, and none of their reasons are the same. There are at least five, although possibly more, coexisting subplots in this film, and despite that being a rather large number, they never get too difficult to keep track of — but only because we’ve seen them before and none of them are all that deep.
After some dialogue playing over the opening credits, we learn a few things. The first is that there’s a party taking place at someone’s house (her parents are out of town on the day of graduation for some reason), and that if you went to the school, you’re invited. The second thing we learn is that Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love Hewitt), the most popular girl at school, and Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli), the most popular guy, have broken up. Upon hearing this news, Preston Meyers (Ethan Embry), decides to focus on telling Amanda how he has felt about her for their entire high school career.
Preston convinces his friend, Denise (Lauren Ambrose) to tag along, although as soon as they arrive, he ditches her and she’s left all alone. She has no idea what to do, being the sarcastic social outcast that she is, and eventually finds herself trapped in the bathroom … with another person. The door to the bathroom is broken, and after entering and slamming the door before seeing anyone was in there (or learning it doesn’t open), she finds herself locked in with a wannabe gangsta named Kenny (Seth Green). They spend the night reminiscing about the past four years, learning more about themselves in the process.
Meanwhile, Preston is still chasing after his dream girl. Mike, the jock to rule all jocks, is trying to convince his other jock friends to break up with their girlfriends, presumably because he’s bored now that he dumped his. The nerds of the school, led by William (Charlie Korsmo), are planning to drug Mike and take incriminating photographs of him as payback for the years of anguish he put them through. The band at the party is constantly fighting, one girl claims to want to obtain all 500+ signatures in her yearbook, and even a stripper dressed as an angel. And there are also a ton of cameos scattered throughout, giving you maybe a dozen moments of “Hey, I recognize him/her!”
The point is that there is a lot going on in this film. I’m not sure if you can count all of the aforementioned as their own subplots, but they’re all in the film. There are more that I didn’t mention as well, but they’re more one-off gags than actual plots. Then again, the angel stripper is only seen once as well, and the yearbook girl is only seen a handful of times and never actually talks with anyone, so maybe you can’t count them either. Regardless, they were memorable enough to make note of in my mind, which to me says that they’re important enough to mention.
Unfortunately for the film, it only runs around 100 minutes, and you probably have 200 minutes worth of content given all of the situations. For a party that supposedly lasts all night long, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. The relatively short running time means that none of the separate storylines get enough time to feel realistic or develop in a realistic way. When character growth happens (almost all of which happens at the end), it’s forced and cliché. We don’t believe that characters would develop this way given what they’ve just experienced, and this makes the move appear much preachier than it should. Oh, the jock should be nicer to others and everyone needs to stop acting so fake? Who would have thought that?
Without relatable, deep, or interesting characters, the fractured narrative doesn’t work all that well. Jumping back and forth from underdeveloped story to another one gets tiresome, and by the end, I was hoping that the police would come to break up that party just so that certain characters would either be caught and therefore removed from the story, or forced into action thanks to the immediacy of the situation. Unfortunately, despite the overloaded plot, Can’t Hardly Wait‘s characters meander and take a lot of time doing nothing of consequence. This is frustrating already, by considering they don’t have the time necessary to develop already, wasting it doing nothing is unforgivable.
The one character you might believe in is the outcast girl, Denise. However, even she is an archetype, and because she’s not given enough time to develop, she never breaks out of the mold we associate with “outcast girl.” She hates parties? You don’t say. She’s too mature for the rest of her classmates? Really now, tell me more. But at least this character becomes two-dimensional, while everyone else sticks with one.
Can’t Hardly Wait, for all I’ve said about it, still doesn’t become unwatchable. It’s not funny, it has no real drama, the characters are all one-dimensional, the narrative does them a disservice, and it’s a cluttered mess, but it’s not terrible. Granted, I can’t think of one positive thing to say apart from that, but the sum of its parts is something that you will likely be able to tolerate, if nothing else. That’s not a recommendation, mind you, as you’re much better off watching something else, but if you want to see the dozens of cameos scattered throughout, you’ll be able to sit through the rest without being offended by the film for wasting your time.