Should I Watch..? 'American Pie'
What's the big deal?
American Pie is a teen sex comedy film released in 1999 and marked the directorial debuts of brothers Chris & Paul Weitz. The film follows the efforts of four American teenagers to lose their virginity before they graduate from high school and it stars Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Seann William Scott, Alyson Hannigan, Tara Reid, Mena Suvari and Eugene Levy. The film proved hugely successful at the box office with global takings in excess of $235 million and it paved the way for a number of sequels and straight-to-DVD spin-offs, all broadly following the same pattern as this first film. Critics, however, were divided - many derided the film for being shallow and tasteless although cast members like Levy and Biggs were praised for their performances.
What's it about?
East Great Falls High in Western Michigan is where five friends can usually be found - awkward nerd Jim, virgin nerd Kevin, lacrosse-playing Chris "Oz" Ostreicher, party-hosting wild boy Steve Stifler and coffee-loving sophisticate Paul. Stifler is the only one to have had any success with women although Kevin is hoping to score with his girlfriend Vicky. After hearing from one of their schoolmates that he had just lost his virginity at a party, the guys make a pact to rid themselves of theirs before they graduate as they fear this my make them social outcasts.
Trouble is, it's easier said than done. Oz joins the school choir and discovers that the way to a girl's heart is via empathy and soon catches the eye of singer Heather. Kevin and Vicky split up after she discovers the pact he had made and he must attempt to revive their relationship. And Jim ignores his father's constant (and unwanted) advice on sex and instead hopes to score with Nadia, an exchange student from Europe, with the help of a hidden webcam. What could possibly go wrong..?
Trailer - contains mild swearing
Chris "Oz" Ostreicher
Thomas Ian Nicholas
Eddie Kaye Thomas
Seann William Scott
Chris & Paul Weitz
Release Date (UK)
8th October, 1999
What's to like?
Let me say from the off that films like this really aren't my cup of tea. American Pie is heavily reliant on crudity, nudity and teenage humour and I just need more than that to make me laugh. However, the film is not a total bust. The comradery between all the actors is believable and it makes the film feel like it's shot among real people instead of good-looking actors on a soundstage somewhere. Credit must go to Adam Herz for his witty screenplay featuring dialogue that you can imagine coming from real people, even if some of the film's highlights (and I use that term advisedly) seem too far-fetched.
For me, the star of the show is Levy who puts in a brilliant performance as Jim's unbearing father determined to have as much influence over his son's sex life as possible, talking Jim through pornography and covering up the truth when Jim's mum catches him trying to watch it on TV. The film also has a pretty decent soundtrack too. But don't expect any real laughs here as the comedy is so obviously sign-posted that Mr Magoo can spot the punchlines. The film is every bit as raucous, depraved and shallow as one of Stifler's pool parties.
- To date, this film has spawned three cinematic sequels and four straight-to-DVD spin-offs under the banner of American Pie Presents... The series had made just under $1 billion at the global box office but as the most recent film American Reunion underperformed, plans for a fifth film remain deadlocked.
- The film marked the cinematic debut for Scott who was paid just $8000 for his performance. Reprising the role three more times, Scott has often by typecast as a goofy jock throughout his career.
- Fans of Blink 182 will spot the band during the Internet broadcast scene. If you listen closely, you'll also hear their song Mutt being played in the background.
What's not to like?
My main issue with American Pie is that its principal aim is to laugh at nerdy boys trying to get laid by any means necessary. Even ignoring the fact that there is little inherent comedy in such a situation, surely everyone watching will have their own nightmares and memories of their formative teenage years. I know I would rather forget them altogether but maybe some viewers would rather laugh at someone else's misfortune instead of cringing at their own. The movie simply isn't as funny as it thinks it is and offers no surprises or genuine laughs of its own.
What's worse is that the film has dated about as well as a cheese sandwich. In this era of gender equality and suspect sexual politics in Hollywood, American Pie is about as welcome a film as a snuff movie at a kindergarten. I don't recall a single female cast member who doesn't strip off or isn't just a quick conquest for someone. What sort of message does this film send out? Virginity isn't a fatal disease or a social stigma so why make such a big deal about losing it? It feels wrong nowadays for a film to blatantly objectify women in this way and forgive me if I've got my serious hat on but I felt like that when I first saw it years ago. It wasn't that funny then and it really isn't funny now. It just feels... kinda awkward.
Should I watch it?
American Pie is simply an updated version of other sex-fuelled teenage movies, full to the brim with cheap humour and misogyny. The cast bravely give it their all but the film's reliance on bodily functions and boobs meant that the material doesn't give them much to work with. It's hard to imagine a film like this getting made any more and frankly, I won't shed too many tears.
Great For: nerdy teenagers, Harvey Weinstein, unnecessary sequels
Not So Great For: the #MeToo movement, under-18s, women, typecasting
What else should I watch?
American Pie has since become a by-word for these sort of teen-centric movies that provide little entertainment value unless a group of wannabe sexual predators is your idea for a laugh. None of the other films in the series (or the spin-offs) stray too far from the formula and get increasingly desperate from film to film. Of course, if you want more of this sort of thing then you have no shortage of other films to enjoy from the Seth Rogen-flavoured Superbad to Eighties classics like Porky's or Fast Times At Ridgemont High.
These days, sex comedies appear to have toned things down but still happily push the boundaries of good taste at times. With the likes of the aforementioned Rogen and Judd Atapow, we have seen films like The Forty Year-Old Virgin and Sex Tape continue the tradition of puerile hijinks without really making any significant shift in gender politics. Honestly, films like this make me depressed and I'm already depressed!
© 2018 Benjamin Cox