REVIEW: American Pie [1999]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 95 minutes | Release Date: July 9th, 1999 (USA)
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director(s): Paul Weitz & Chris Weitz
Writer(s): Adam Herz

“Suck me, beautiful”

I’ll admit now that my love for American Pie is rooted heavily in nostalgia. Having first seen it in theatres as I was entering my own senior year of high school, the comradery of its band of brothers cautiously walking together towards graduation and manhood doesn’t quite resonate as much today at age thirty. My seventeen-year old self remembers the performances being a bit more honed and the scripting a tad crisper, but the one thing that didn’t change with an older and maybe wiser perspective is the comedy. Adam Herz‘s screenplay really does capture the crass, sexual humor of teenagers ready to move on from a life of virginity without a clue as to how. Yes, the characters are stereotypes and nothing more than vehicles to be put in gross-out situations, but it works.

I think the most interesting aspect of watching it today was scrutinizing the credits. The title font is so wimpy and almost unreadable over the opening footage and the realization of how many people were involved is kind of crazy. Somehow Chris Weitz found himself without a director’s credit—that damn DGA rule not allowing more than one director to a movie—despite finding as good a career if not better than brother Paul afterwards, Seann William Scott wasn’t yet using his full middle name, and seeing Natasha Lyonne flash by made me wonder how she was in the newest installment when I had thought she died years ago. Most of the names have unsurprisingly gone nowhere since, but their inclusion did bring back fond memories while soundtrack of Tonic, Blink-182, Bic Runga and more began to play in my head.

The premise isn’t anything original, yet the film is seminal in how it proved R-rated comedies could still turn a profit. I can’t imagine if it was PG-13 without the litany of f-bombs and Shannon Elizabeth‘s body disrobing to every teen’s delight. A character as quotable as Steve Stifler (Scott) would have been a tame shell of the riotous dick he is and the infamous apple pie scene probably would have been cut. The film does open to Jason Biggs‘ Jim Levenstein readying himself to masturbate as both parents come in to find him in a tube sock after all. It’s funny because of the reactions and those reactions are only possible if the deed itself isn’t hidden by a lack of confidence in box office receipts. Teens probably bought the DVD just to pause it on the Sex Bible’s instructions for the “tongue tornado”. Sex sells and I’m always surprised when studios forget.

But through all the shenanigans on their quest to complete a pact of discovering the Holy Grail of intimacy, there is also a morality tale of respecting women, acknowledging one’s faults, and accepting that growing up entails a modicum of maturity. Lyonne’s Jessica becomes a voice of empowerment for young girls and Eugene Levy‘s aptly named Jim’s Dad is the awkward awesomeness we all wish our fathers could be when discussing the truth behind the birds and the bees. His description of the ‘exotic flowers’ in the smut magazines he purchases for his son is priceless and his reactions to the boy’s off-the-charts libido probably single-handedly revitalized his career. And then guys like sensitive jock Oz (Chris Klein) transforming himself for love maybe even give some kids an example to follow on their own tough road to adulthood.

For the rest of us, however, we love the raunchiness of semen-infused beer, sodomized pies, and tales of flutes going where no man yet had. Biggs, Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas (Kevin), and Eddie Kaye Thomas (Finch) are the epitome of the middle-of-the-road clique spanning brain to athlete while never being too good or not good enough to exist in both worlds. You’ve got uber-dork Sherman (Chris Owen) trying to enter the group from one end and douchebag Stifler forcing his way on the other, but American Pie really stays true to its core quartet looking for love—or at least the physical equivalent their hormones are willingly anxious to let suffice. One has a girlfriend, another a reputation, and the final two the inability to talk to females without a verbal stumbling, but each is in the same boat with hopes that prom night will be salvation.

The females don’t fare quite as well with their slim sphere of influence being mainly used as prospective conquests, but this is where Mena Suvari got her start and the role that launched Tara Reid onto her dream of sex tape notoriety. Elizabeth found minimal appeal due to her ‘talents’, but really only Alyson Hannigan‘s band geek Michelle found any lasting time in the limelight. Her nerd chic is fantastic and listening to every story she has starting with, “This one time, at Band Camp,” is a highlight. They all get lost in the boy’s club, though, becoming the sexual objects necessary for the plot to work—not that I realized it back in 1999. Honestly, though, how many R-rated comedies were geared at women before last year’s Bridesmaids anyway? No one should fault this film for society’s shortcomings.

Instead we should praise our introduction to Seann William Scott’s brand of obnoxious humor and Eddie Kaye Thomas’ cultivated adolescent taste. By far the best character then and now, Finch’s proclivities garner huge laughs and make us clamor for more in subsequent films as his age catches up with his persona. Biggs is a laugh too with his ability to not break character during Levy’s many man-to-man talks as well as his self-deprecating ways. Couple this trio of spot-on performances with the brilliant cameos from John Cho and Casey Affleck—funnier now since both are much brighter stars in the business now than any of the leads—and American Pie can stand the test of time. It may not be as relevant to thirty-year old me now, but the nostalgia held might still be close to that of a Breakfast Club. Blasphemy, I know.

One Thought to “REVIEW: American Pie [1999]”

  1. outta all the American Pie movies this one speaks to me. this is my fave one and Kevin is a hottie!

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