Director: Paul Weitz, Chris Weitz
Cast: Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, Alyson Hannigan, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Chris Klein, Tara Reid, Shannon Elizabeth, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Mena Suvari, Natasha Lyonne, Jennifer Coolidge and Eugene Levy
Plot: Four virgins make a pact to get laid before prom night. However, they don’t count on webcams, Steven Stiffler and their own hearts getting in the way.
American Pie does exactly what it says on the cover. If you knew nothing about American Pie, looking at the front of the DVD should tell you all you need to know about the film you are about to watch. A group of awkward-looking teenagers in high school standing there, next to some of the most gorgeous teenage actors you can imagine with ‘I-cannot-believe-my-luck’ faces. Right there and then, you know that you are going to be watching a raucous, laugh-out-loud, brand of gross-out comedy. Leave your brain at the door and settle down, for better or for worse, in a 90s version of a John Hughes movie. We have seen these movies before in more modern times to varying degrees of success. They are mindless comedy flicks, often terrible, but forgivable on the off-chance you might stumble across one scene where a girl takes off her bra. We are easy men to please, when it comes to this sort of movie and even if we, deep down, know it is terrible, there is always a cheap draw to this genre that keeps us coming back.
American Pie does all of that. It does it well, in fact. The girls are appropriately gorgeous (Tara Reid before the drama, Alyson Hannigan at the height of Willow), the jokes are beyond funny and no intelligence is required, if that is how you like your comedy. Some of the set-pieces are shining examples of why American Pie is such a fantastic piece of teenage cinema. The scene with the eponymous American Pie is just as fantastic as you heard it was, made even sweeter with the ‘father-to-son’ talk about the horrific incident. While I don’t want to ruin the punchline to the ‘Jim takes Nadia’ home scene for the uninitiated, it is the stuff of genius, playing with the imagined promise of potential nudity, but getting us with some great laughs at the same time. There are too many good comedy moments to bring up, almost all of them hitting the mark. Sure, like with all gross-out comedies, a certain style of taste is needed to enjoy this film. All American Pies have at least one moment that perhaps pushes the boundaries too far and the original’s ‘bite back the vomit’ moment involves Stiffler picking up the wrong beer. The awkwardness is cringe-worthy, bordering too much, yet somehow being so captivating, we wouldn’t dream of cutting away. Herz writes this fantastically, confident that, despite the hit-or-miss genre, he is onto something good. The action and jokes hardly ever roll into a slow lull, every moment well calculated and planned for. While some movies enter cultdom for reasons no one is quite sure of, American Pie easily earns its stripes. When I was a teenager, this movie was a rite of passage. You weren’t an adult (or at least what teenagers thought being an adult was), until you had watched this film. It was the forbidden fruit of the movie world: a movie purely about sex and hot girls. Watching American Pie was a guilty secret, which burns this movie into your childhood.
However, it’s not just the jokes or the resonance of the movie that works. That is why you first began watching American Pie. As the movie kicks off, you find something much better. John Hughes’ films were led by high school stereotypes (the nerd, the jock, the girl everyone covets). American Pie boasts a massive array of characters and every one of them feels real. Watching as a teenage boy and you instantly relate to the four central teenagers. They are heading towards prom, trapped with these feelings of sexual anxiety, yet still virgins. Women are a strange creature to them and they have no idea how to go about asking a girl out, let alone taking her back into a bed with them. After introducing these heroes, Kevin, the pack leader, suggests coming up with an agreement that they will all get laid by or on prom night, helping each other out every step of the way. The characters then split up into their own unique storylines and characteristics. Jim is the king of awkwardness, the weird kid at school who has no idea what he is doing. Kevin actually has a long-term girlfriend, but one who isn’t ready for sex just yet, something Kevin needs to get around, without pushing his girlfriend anywhere she doesn’t want to go. Chris Klein is, on paper, the perfect package, the high school jock and handsome to look at. Yet, with girls running circles around him, he tries to go down a more ‘sensitive road’ to trick a girl into bed, accidentally discovering himself. And then there is Finch, who is… well, Finch’s job isn’t to be related to, but to come up with the gags that simply hit home. He is so loveable, you don’t need to relate to him; you just want him to be your best friend at high school. As they go on their separate stories, they grow as characters and you end up caring for them. This movie has heart and while it does reserve one character that you are allowed to not empathise with (his name is Steve Stiffler and there are times, when he doesn’t just make the movie; he is the movie!), every character hits home, especially in a touching ending note, where it is nice to just see the characters find solace at the end of the chaotic journey.
But it gets better. In a lot of these American Pie style movies, it is the women that suffer. They are the possessions of the genre, the unattainable girl that we hope the nerdy guy can end up with, so we have a chance at scoring a date with the prettiest girls in school ourselves. I don’t think past two-dimensional female characters in the high school genre are necessarily sexist. I think sometimes the women work better as emptier portraits, rather than a fully-formed character, because the viewer can squint and picture their school crush instead of the actress. But Herz waves that idea away and writes up a bunch of female characters that are just as interesting as the blokes. For example, seeing as they are technically the targets in the teenager’s con games, especially Mena Suvari, who is meant to fall in love with Oz, pretending he is someone he is not, it would be easy to make them seem dithering idiots. Pretty faces with nothing else there. But in American Pie, there are leagues smarter than their male leads. Suvari wears an expression when around Oz, like ‘do you really think I am falling for this?’ Any relationship that the ending throws up doesn’t come out of conning the girls, but rather the girls finding the lengths the boys will go to ask them out on a date, endearing. Even Natasha Lyonne, who isn’t even targeted by any of the leading male characters, has a good role to sink into, making a side character one that sticks in the mind. And then there is Alyson Hannigan, who is a totally show-stealer, becoming everyone’s favourite character in the space of one, glorious punchline. If I had to pick any of the girls in this movie to take home, it would be Michelle.
Final Verdict: This genre is usually filled with brain-dead wastes of time, but American Pie makes this look like the easiest thing in the world. Start with the characters, write the jokes second… the perfect movie is made.