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American Pie

Review by KJ Doughton
Posted 16 July 1999

  Directed by Paul Weitz

Starring Chris Owen,
Thomas DeLonge, Mark Hoppus,
Travis Barker, Jason Biggs,
Jennifer Coolidge, James DeBello,
Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan,
Chris Klein, Eugene Levy,
Natasha Lyonne, Eli Marienthal,
Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid,
Woody Schultz, Mena Suvari,
Eddie Kaye Thomas, and Seann William Scott

Screenplay by Adam Herz

American Pie is a better-than-usual puke-stain on the carpet of gross-out comedies that’s been rolled out of Hollywood ever since Ben Stiller wore a semen earring in There’s Something About Mary. Like vultures digging through a landfill, studios are green-lighting any post-Porky’s script they can get their unwashed hands on. Toilet humor is tops in tinsel-town, and American Pie laces its crust with some truly hair-raising glaze. There’s an auditory explosion of gastrointestinal sounds (shades of Dumb and Dumber) as the high school loser sits powerless atop a toilet after having his lunch laced with laxatives. There’s another blustery bit involving an online broadcast of a would-be sexual conquest that’s foiled by premature ejaculation. Then there’s a nod to the film’s title, in which a frustrated young virgin gets intimate with a certain baked dessert favorite.

The fact that American Pie is also somewhat touching and perceptive about the thoughts and behavior of contemporary teenagers, makes it a more balanced tightrope act of uplift and upchuck than Adam Sandler’s similarly raunchy Big Daddy. American Pie concerns the plight of four high school seniors who make a pact to lose their virginity by prom night. You’ve seen this premise before. In the early eighties, there was a similar spurt of high-profile teen exploitation movies focusing on this theme. The trend began with a film taking on the female point of view: 1980’s Little Darlings. Starring Kristy McNichol (of the eighties television staple series, Family) and Tatum O’Neal (all grown up following her pre-teen appearance in Paper Moon), Little Darlings focused on two summer camp girls who set out on a quest to become deflowered: it ends in a surprisingly non-exploitative bit of truth. However, 1981’s Porky’s was strictly testosterone-powered male bonding of the crudest type, with a piece de resistance involving a male member being dangled through a hole and into a female high-school locker room (then yanked by the film’s villainous female teacher in a fleshy variation of tug-of-war). The following year offered Fast Times at Ridgemont High, with a similar menu of sexually explicit gags and innuendo. American Pie is this year’s reincarnation of the horny-teenager comedy.

American Pie’s quartet of heroes includes Jim (Jason Biggs), whose father buys him the latest porno mags in an effort to teach him the facts of life, nineties-style. Meanwhile, Kevin (Thomas Nicholas) takes on the Bill Clinton theory that the oral sex he’s receiving from his steady doesn’t qualify as the real thing, and yearns to "really get laid". Oz (Chris Klein) is a jock whose sincerity is challenged when he falls hard for a refined choir girl (Mena Suvari), and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is a runty also-ran whose aversion to the high school’s toilets results in his going home to answer the call of nature. Jim is the lustful lad that the camera follows closest, and like most high schoolers, the film depicts his obsession with sex more as a product of peer pressure than a true hormone-driven need. Indeed, all of the characters in American Pie are revealed to have serious insecurities about their sexual prowess. Kevin, who’s gotten the closest of the bunch to "home plate", finds himself guilty about continuing a relationship where he can’t tell his girlfriend "I love you" with unconditional sincerity. Meanwhile, the jock of the bunch finds that he’s actually falling in love, and that the longevity of his relationship is taking priority over the need to score by the final urgent moments of prom night. The fact that these guys have real misgivings about how honorable their intentions are is refreshing.

Meanwhile, the women of American Pie are not at all the faceless, barbie-doll objects that teen-comedy history would lead you believe they would be. Nadia, a shapely foreign exchange student played by Shannon Elizabeth, turns out to have a libido that rivals the admiring Jim. When the latter finds her engaging in a bit of self-pleasuring atop his bed during an afternoon study session, she doesn’t leave the room in shame, but demands that he, too, reveal himself in a kinky "pro quid pro" striptease session. Later, Jim will find himself again playing submissive to the dominant demands of Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), an insomnia-inducing nerd harboring an uncharacteristic kink. There’s a sweetness to Mena Suvari’s choir girl, Heather, that makes us realize why the unlikely suitor Oz would find her a welcome alternative to the sweaty jock mentality he has immersed himself in.

Don’t get me wrong. American Pie’s characterizations are not Oscar-caliber. They’re sketchy at best, as is the strictly by-the-numbers direction of Paul Weitz. The movie’s appeal will depend almost entirely on whether or not toilet humor offends or excites you. Indeed, the real reason that American Pie will spark the attention of this summer’s film going youth is its showcase of raunchy set pieces. The most horrific involves a beer cup used as a semen dispenser, before the contents are tossed down the hatch by an unsuspecting brew-drinker. Meanwhile, the seemingly asexual band nerd Michelle reveals an original, alternative use for her flute. Not to be a complete spoiler, I’ll resist the temptation to reveal the remainder of American Pie’s saucy ingredients. Needless to say, it’s a tastier and more thoughtful recipe than most teen raunchfests can boast. But like a McDonald’s Big Mac Meal, it’s still a guilty pleasure with very little nutritional value.

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