Synopsis: There’s something about your first piece.
You’ll never look at warm apple pie the same way again. American Pie takes a hysterical look at four high school friends who make a pact to lose their virginity by prom night. As they try to manipulate their way into the, um…hearts of some of their classmates, their plans backfire with hilarity. Follow the raging hormones of four teenage boys and their girls as they gear up for the most important night of their lives.
American Pie 6.75
eyelights: its ensemble cast. Stifler. Stifler’s mom.
eyesores: its amateurish performances. its contrived humour. its weak dialogues.
“Guys, uh, what exactly does third base feel like?”
‘American Pie’ was amongst the first DVDs that I bought. By that, I mean that it was maybe in the first 30 or 50 out of a ridiculously extensive collection. But I bought it because the movie had been so popular at the box office that I felt I’d missed out by not seeing it.
So I decided to give it a try.
I can’t say that I was enamoured with it. In fact, aside for a few guffaws, I found the humour and the performances a bit weak – sometimes even cringe-inducing. I was left so unimpressed with it that eventually copied the film and sold off my DVD – something I rarely do.
Time heals all wounds they say. I’m not so sure that this is true, but I know that time blurs one’s memory; what was once clear and vibrant become undefined and faded. With time, many of our recollections become vague impressions of experiences, of moments, good and bad.
Now I remember why ‘American Pie’ failed to impress me.
Released in 1999, it tells the story of Jim, Chris, Kevin and Paul, four high school seniors who make a pact to lose their virginity before they leave for college. Given that the prom is only three weeks away, however, they truly have their work cut out for themselves.
- Jim is your everyday socially awkward teenager, surrounded by good friends, but having a terrible time navigating his interactions with the opposite sex. He doesn’t have a girlfriend and his only sexual experiences come from masturbating secretly in his bedroom.
He’s played by Jason Biggs, who brings sensitivity and naiveté to the part. He’s a bit goofy and hapless, enough to make him the butt of many jokes, but he’s also relatable and effortlessly likable. Biggs isn’t exactly a comic genius here, but he shows potential.
- Chris is a jock who’s decided that the best approach to sexual conquest is to become a sensitive male. Thus he watches women’s TV channels to tap into the female psyche and even joins the school choir to show a softer side of himself. He’s derided by his teammates.
He’s incarnated by Chris Klein, one of the most inept actors in a film that’s bursting with amateurish performances. His attempts at sensitivity make me want to smack him and his grating vocal performances are uniquely embarrassing. He utterly spoils a terrific character.
- Kevin is your average guy, relatively good-looking, put-together, and with a girlfriend. All he’s got on his mind is sex and he’s trying to convince Vicky, his girlfriend, to go all the way. It’s his idea to make the pact, after seeing a complete loser score at a house party.
Thomas Ian Nicholas plays Kevin like he’s about to break a smile much of the time, even in his most serious moments. He doesn’t take away from the part, given that it’s relatively generic, but he also doesn’t bring much to it either. He is basically unremarkable.
- Paul, or Finch, as everyone calls him, is a little bit on the fringe. He’s a neurotic (ex: he refuses to use the school bathroom because he finds it unsanitary) who tries to be refined in his tastes. What saves him is that he’s generally cool, collected and smart.
He’s given life by Eddie Kaye Thomas, who gives him a sort of Nicholas Cage quality – when Cage is at his most subtle. He’s actually pretty good at balancing drama and comedy, turning in by far the best performance of the four friends; Thomas renders Finch believable.
They’re supported by Seann William Scott, in a career-defining turn as the school party monster, who is always on the make and who teases the gang mercilessly for not being able to get laid. He is an absolute riot, a hoot, though Scott hadn’t yet honed his comedic chops.
Eugene Levy has a small part as Jim’s dad, who tries so hard to reach out to his son to explain to him what little he knows about sex. He’s a bit late and behind the times, but he’s so earnest that his awkwardness is endearing. I’m no fan of Levy but he’s decent here.
The women, naturally, are written with barely an ounce of humour between them. This is typical of these types of film, which is frustrating because, although guys are goofier, women can be funny too. Mind you, this was almost two decades ago; things have changed a bit since.
- Vicky is played by Tara Reid. She’s one’s generic girlfriend, though she does get a fair amount of screentime. Reid plays her cutesy, yet not particularly convincingly.
- Natasha Lyonne is the cool friend, Jessica. She tries to help them and impart upon them her own experiences. Lyonne looks about to burst with laughter the whole time.
- Mena Suvari is Heather, a choir girl Chris has his eyes on. She’s good-natured and straight-laced. Suvari’s doll-like features make her captivating enough.
- Shannon Elizabeth has a cameo as Nadja, a European exchange student that everyone has the hots for. She’s two-dimensional, but so is Elizabeth’s cartoon performance.
- Alyson Hannigan is the funniest of the bunch as Michelle, a band camp geek who won’t stop yammering on and on. She gets some of the most surprising one-liners.
The picture isn’t much to write home about, being maybe a notch above of ‘Porky’s’ but nowhere near of the quality of ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ or ‘Road Trip‘, who either have better laughs or greater dialogues. Still, it does have its fair share of notable moments along the way.
What’s fascinating is just how hit-and-miss most of them are:
- Jim is trying to masturbate to an illegal TV channel in his room, but it’s all distorted. He’s unfazed by it, but his mom comes in just as he’s getting into the heat of it.
Hit: I think it’s funny because it’s not an unfamiliar situation for a lot of us (though younger audiences may not understand the scrambled channel part).
Miss: It’s so contrived that it turns into something from ‘Three’s Company’: Jim’s remote suddenly doesn’t work, so he can’t turn the TV off. Of course. So his dad takes it from him – but also, for some inexplicable reason, the pillow Jim is hiding his erection with. Um, sure.
- Vicky is giving Kevin a blowjob and he ejaculates just in time, right before Stifler breaks in with a girl in tow, wanting the room for himself.
Hit: Again, this is familiar to anyone who’s been to a house party. It’s also great because Stifler’s plans for seduction get railroaded when he finds Kevin’s semen in the most unlikely of place.
Miss: Why the !@#$ did Kevin use a half-drunk cup of beer? Why not a tissue? Or Vicky’s hair, like all good porn recommends? Why would Stifler vomit just from drinking semen? Just at the thought of it? I think it would have been funnier if he had made the realization, then knowingly dismissed it because it was too late now and really wasn’t that bad (Scott would have sold that perfectly). Then maybe chugged the rest down (Why waste a good beer, right?).
- A couple of partying dudes are looking at a picture of Stifler’s mom and comment that they’d love to get her in the sack. This introduced the classy -yet popular- term acronym “M.I.L.F.” to the masses.
Hit: Yes, some people’s moms can be hot; just because she’s a mom doesn’t make her less so. Man, some of my friends had H-O-T moms. So, thanks for putting that out there. Also, it’s a great scene because it’s mother-fing Sulu (version 2.0) who says it!!! Sweet!
Miss: It’s a throw-away scene, and we don’t see Stifler’s mom, satisfying our curiosity (but it turns out that there’s a good reason for that…).
- Jim’s father is always hanging around his room to chat him up about sex.
Hit: Yes, this can be awkward for both parties, and that’s very funny. That his dad would buy porn magazines to teach him about the basics of female anatomy is hilariously inept.
Miss: Levy’s performance and lines are just a touch beyond the believable. What makes this kind of stuff funny is how real it is (i.e. truth in comedy). Sadly, it’s slightly overdone here.
- Jim comes home, finds a home-baked apple pie that his mom left for him. Since he was told by Chris that a woman feels like warm apple pie, he decides to stick his fingers in. Then he gets another idea…
Hit: It’s so outrageous that it makes you laugh – especially when he gets caught by his dad.
Miss: Let’s say… let’s just say, that someone did come up with such an outlandish idea… wouldn’t they at least take the damned pie to a more private place instead of doing it right in the kitchen? Wouldn’t they?
- Kevin gets the advice of returning the favour to Vicky if he wants to be a good partner to her, so he goes down on her in his bedroom – with his parents right below. When his father comes up to tell them that dinner’s ready, and is about to catch them in the act, he hears her say she’s coming and turns around.
Hit: Again, a fairly universal situation, making it funny.
Miss: It’s clear from her passionate cries that something’s up. Why would the dad dismiss that?
- Nadja asks Jim for help with her World History homework, so they schedule a meeting at his place. But she arrives from ballet and needs to change, and uses his room. Little does she know that Jim was coaxed by Stifler to set up his webcam to film her. So Jim and his friends are watching her change in his room, to the delight of all. Going through his things, she finds his porn and begins to masturbate – so Jim goes back and offers to lend her a hand. Embarrassed, she coaxes him to strip for her in exchange for seeing her naked – but little does he know that everyone in the neighbourhood is watching now. She eventually decides to seduce him, but he gets too excited and comes from excitement alone. Twice.
Hit: Nadja naked. Nadja masturbating. So hot. Not funny, but H-O-T.
Miss: Where to begin? Why change in his bedroom instead of the bathroom? Why was Nadja going through his things? Why was she killing time when she should have been changing? Why was she masturbating (didn’t she know he might come back anytime)? Jim has time to run down the street and back? Why does this 18-year-old girl have breast implants? Why is that considered normal by everyone? Why does he do a stupid dance instead of just stripping? Why does his ejaculation put an end to the proceedings (they haven’t even kissed or touched yet, so there’s plenty of time to get him back into shape)?
- To get revenge on Finch, who has been bolstering his reputation around school at his expense, Stifler puts a laxative in his coffee. Since he has an aversion to using the school facilities, this causes him problems – which is only made worse by Stifler guiding him in the girls’ room.
Hit: Scatalogical humour often works (see the bathroom incident in ‘Dumb and Dumber‘ as a perfect example) and it’s nice to see Finch get a few laughs.
Miss: Why did Finch run around the hallways when he could have discreetly gone to the nearest bathroom? Why were all the kids waiting for him outside when he was done?
Ultimately, though, my favourite moments are between Jim and Michelle, at the post-Prom party at Stifler’s, when Michelle consistently disappoints Jim with endless rambling about band camp – that is, until she admits to having masturbated with a flute once. You don’t see that coming!
Ahem… but wish you had.
And then there’s the scene when they hook up – for so many reasons: first she is clearly eager to have sex, which you never expected, then he bounces off the bed like a douche, then she gets fierce in bed (“Say my name, bitch!” she shouts) and then he realizes he’s been used by her.
And is totally okay with it.
So although, ‘American Pie’ is uneven on so many levels, it does at least leave you with a few gems. I”m still stunned that it was as popular as all that and that it spawned three sequels and four spin-off films, but it’s not entirely bad either. I’ve certainly seen far worse.
But I’ve seen much better too.
Date of viewing: Sept 3, 2016