It's graduation day, but at the ceremony there's only one thing anyone can talk about - no, make that two things, one is the big party tonight that if you're not invited to you can go along to anyway, and two did you hear Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli) and Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love Hewitt) split up? The senior year's golden couple, and he broke with her for reasons nobody can understand, though for one student it's the best news he's heard for ages - ever since he caught sight of Amanda on her first day of school, in fact. Now is the time for Preston Meyers (Ethan Embry) to make his move...
Can't Hardly Wait didn't get a great reception when it was initially released, dismissed as yet another teen movie for a market saturated with them, but quality will find a way and before long it had amassed a loyal fanbase, most of whom discovered it on home video. Certainly it adhered to the basics of the genre as laid down by a combination of Animal House and John Hughes, but there was a real, charming heart to the story - or stories, for it took on the structure of a selection of plotlines which it wove together with skill, humour and most importantly a genuine affection for its characters, even when they were acting like idiots.
They only had themselves to blame for messing up their big chances, yet equally the script commended them when they got it right. That script, and indeed that direction, was courtesy of a team who went on somewhat depressingly to pen a bunch of uninspired romantic comedies miles away from the deftness of this and their follow-up Josie and the Pussycats: they never directed another film after those, which was a pity because it would have been good to see what they could have come up with next if offered carte blanche on a pet project. As it was, the underrated Josie failed at the box office, and you had to chalk up their directing career as a poignant maybe rather than a cheering definite as to where it would have progressed.
But we still had these two, and in Can't Hardly Wait an impressive group of faces who were either of the moment - late nineties - or about to see things take off for them, many uncredited but remaining recognisable. The concept of a party which gets out of hand wasn't exactly fresh, but what was turned out to be the manner in which Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan used it to hang their more interesting narratives upon. So Preston goes along with his platonic, sardonic best pal Denise (Lauren Ambrose) who practically has to have her arm twisted to show up, in the hope that he can finally meet Amanda, who has thus far ignored him for years, and tell her how he feels.
That's not all that happens as we also got Mike's story where he wanted to prove himself the stud who didn't need a girlfriend, all the better to prepare for all the female attention he'll get at college, though it doesn't turn out the way he hoped as he realises what a fool he is being (for one night at least). Then there's Seth Green as aspirant Kenny Fisher who has overthunk his attempts to be cool and his attempts to lose his virginity, yet just as things are looking hopeless fate plays its card, and William Lichter (Charlie Korsmo) who is the top nerd in school, set on humiliating Mike for his bulllying but unexpectedly distracted by what a great time he has at the festivities. Bursting with clever detail, including recurring incidental characters and a wry observation of the little quirks that go through the partygoers' minds (Preston hears Barry Manilow crooning Mandy on the radio and takes it as a sign), Can't Hardly Wait didn't aspire to be the definitive teen movie, but it got close enough to be a gem.