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Preston has been in love with Amanda since the first day of high school. When Amanda is dumped by her football player boyfriend Mike shortly before graduation, Preston decides to attend a big graduation party everyone's going to and declare his feelings for Amanda. Despite her reservations about Preston's plan, his best friend Denise comes to the party with him. Also in attendance at the party are Mike, and William, who has been bullied by Mike all through high school and is at the party to take final revenge on him. Denise's childhood friend Kenny is also there, hoping to lose his virginity before he goes to college.

Basically a 90s version of the classic teen comedies of the 1980s.

Can't Hardly Wait provides examples of the following:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Amanda encounters several over the course of the film.
  • All-Star Cast
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: When Preston finally manages to face Amanda and tell her how he feels, Amanda shuts him down with a Hannibal Lecture, assuming that he's not any different from the other guys at the party who have propositioned her.
  • The Cameo:
    • Jenna Elfman as a stripper dressed as an angel who gives Preston advice.
    • Jerry O'Connell as Trip McNeely, a Huntington graduate and hero of Mike's.
  • Dawson Casting: Averted with Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ethan Embry, Lauren Ambrose, and Charlie Korsmo, who were all in their late teens during filming. Played straight with Peter Facinelli and Seth Green, who were in their early twenties.
  • Funny Background Event: Every time Chris Owen's character appears on screen, he is stealing something, starting off relatively sanely with bags of crisps at the shop and culminating with a police car.
  • Funny Foreigner: The foreign exchange student whose English only goes as far as "Would you like to touch my penis?" and "I am a sex machine!".
  • Heavy Metal Umlaut: The band Lovebürger.
  • Hollywood Nerd: William and his two friends are of the Type 1 variety.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: The angel stripper Preston encounters while trying to use a payphone.
  • Humiliation Conga: Mike goes through one.
  • Jaded Washout: Trip McNeely. Mike is also on his way to becoming this.
  • Jerk Jock: Mike, on his way to becoming a Jaded Washout.
  • Locked in a Room: Kenny and Denise get stuck in the bathroom together after discovering the door jams when closed.
  • Love Letter Lunacy: Preston writes a letter to Amanda explaining his feelings for her. Amanda eventually finds and reads the letter, but doesn't know what Preston looks like. She later sees his picture in the school yearbook, but only after she'd unknowingly rejected him, thinking he was just another Abhorrent Admirer.
  • No Name Given: Other than the six main characters, very few are given actual names, instead being credited by the role they played in the story ("Girl Whose Party It Is", "Exchange Student", "Ready To Have Sex Girl").
  • Noodle Incident: Or rather, specifically, the Pudding Incident. William describing one of Mike's torments of him. Apparently nobody else has forgotten it.
    • Less Noodley than it otherwise might be: while describing it, William holds up a pair of pants with a brown stain on the seat that is presumably - hopefully - chocolate pudding.
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: Quoted verbatim by one of William's friends during The Stinger, just before they get abducted by aliens.
  • N-Word Privileges: Kenny's friends find out the hard way that they don't have these.
  • Oblivious to Love: Amanda has no idea of Preston's feelings for her.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Kenny and his friends. Hilarity Ensues when they run into some actual black people and ask them "what's up my n***as?"
  • Race For Your Love: Amanda gets to the train station just in time to ask Preston about his letter. Slight subversion in that while they do kiss, Preston eventually catches his train and the development of their relationship is revealed later.
  • Running Gag: Kenny
    • The Ditz running around the party trying to get everyone to sign her yearbook.
    • The band booked to perform at the party are too busy arguing to perform. And then when they are ready to perform, the cops have arrived to shut the party down.
    • The kid who is only ever seen stealing stuff.
  • Stalker with a Crush: An Alternative Character Interpretation for Preston.
  • The Stinger: William's two friends are walking down the street talking about how boring their lives are and regretting not going to the party, saying that Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here. Then they get abducted by aliens.
  • Take Our Word for It: The girl hosting the party sees something in the refrigerator...

 Girl Whose Party It Is: That is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen! What is wrong with you people?

  • Their First Time: Kenny and Denise, on a bathroom floor. It's Kenny's first time, but Denise's second.
  • There Are No Coincidences: Preston has spent four years pining for Amanda based on the fact that she happened to walk into his class on the first day of school and take out the same strawberry Pop Tart that he was eating. He also interprets hearing Barry Manilow's song "Mandy" on the radio as being a sign that he should declare his love for Amanda.
  • Tragic Villain: Mike had so many chances to redeem himself but is held back by his immaturity.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: The X-Files? Brad Pitt and Gwyneth? Pay phones? Yep, it's The Nineties. The special edition DVD even has a '90s trivia game to Lampshade Hanging this fact.
  • Unsuspectingly Soused: Happens to William after he decides to have a beer in order to fit in at the party.
  • Where Are They Now? Epilogue
    • William went to Harvard, started a major software company and is now dating a supermodel.
    • Mike went to college on a football scholarship... which he lost after his drinking got in the way of his performance. He then turned into a Jaded Washout, overweight and getting fired from his job at the car wash after some photos from the party surfaced.
    • Denise and Kenny broke up no less than five minutes after their last scene together, and got back together ten minutes later after finding a bathroom.
    • Preston and Amanda stayed in touch throughout the former's college years, and are still together.
  • Wild Teen Party: Where most of the action takes place.