Key to the movie’s magnificence, and the character that makes it transcend from simply 'very funny' to 'full-on masterpiece', is Wayne’s best friend, Garth Algar, portrayed incredibly by Dana Carvey.
Garth is a misfit, a super-shy nerd who got pubes really late (Dana was 37 when he shot this, Mike 29), and won’t touch anyone (declining a high-five from the late Meat Loaf in the “shitty Beatles” scene) – there is a lot of speculation online that the character might have Asperger’s or autism spectrum disorder. But a bit of Aerosmith comes on and he’s in his element.
In fact, the whole movie is like a love letter to the joy of finding your thing.
Director Penelope Spheeris knows a lot about people finding their thing. At the time of making Wayne’s World, she had made the first two parts of her groundbreaking documentary trilogy The Decline Of Western Civilization. The first involved her spending two years embedded in LA’s punk scene while the second was subtitled The Metal Years. In the making of these, she spent huge amounts of time with people who had found their thing – lifers dedicated to the music they love.
She understood the seemingly paradoxical combinations of absurdity and deadly seriousness, hard work and ridiculous excess, absolute earnestness and hard-partying frivolity that proved – and continues to prove – so intoxicating. As she told Vanity Fair, “I knew something about headbangers.”
The headbanging Bohemian Rhapsody sequence, despite being one of the most beloved parts of the movie, was by most accounts incredibly unpleasant to film. Mike and Penelope clashed endlessly, as take after take took their toll on the neck muscles of the cast. The director told Entertainment Weekly of Mike, after four hours of painkiller-assisted headbanging, “You should have heard him bitching when I was trying to do that Bohemian Rhapsody scene: ‘I can’t move my neck like that! Why do we have to do this so many times? No-one is going to laugh at that!'”
Mike also threatened to quit the film entirely if a different song was used. He told the podcast WTF With Marc Maron: “[Penelope and the producers] wanted Guns N’ Roses. Guns N’ Roses were very, very popular, they were a fantastic band. […] Queen, at that point, not by me and not by hardcore fans, but the public had sort of forgotten about them. Freddie [Mercury] had gotten sick, the last time we had seen them was on Live Aid and then there were a few albums after where they were sort of straying away from their arena rock roots. But I always loved Bohemian Rhapsody, I thought it was a masterpiece. So I fought really, really hard for it. And at one point I said, 'Well I’m out, I don’t want to make this movie if it’s not Bohemian Rhapsody.'"
It was the right choice. The scene shot the song back into the charts, taking it to number two in the U.S. where it had previously peaked at nine – not bad for a 15-year-old track. A new video incorporating footage from the movie was released, which Mike was mortified by, comparing it to “whizzing on a Picasso”. Dana manifestly doesn’t know the words, mouthing nonsense along to it, but it somehow works.