American Pie Review

by Edward Johnson-ott (PBBP24A AT prodigy DOT com)
July 8th, 1999

American Pie (1999)
Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Natasha Lyonne, Seann W. Scott, Eugene Levy, Tara Reid, Mena Suvari, Chris Owen, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Jennifer Coolidge, Lawrence Pressman. Screenplay by Adam Herz. Directed by Paul Weitz. 97 minutes. Rated R, 3 stars (out of five stars)

Review by Ed Johnson-Ott, NUVO Newsweekly
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The most surprising thing about the we-must-lose-our-virginity-before-we- graduate comedy, "American Pie," is what goes on beneath the burlesque. How often do you see a film of this type where one of the male leads tells his buddies that he is tired of the endless chatter about getting laid, adding that he's going to visit with a young woman because "at least she knows how to talk about something besides sex." What a refreshing statement to hear.

I laughed at most of the raunchy gags in "American Pie," but found them less shocking than promised by the advance hype. Yes, the film includes a live Internet peep show, semen-laced beer drinking, jokes about oral sex techniques, a lengthy diarrhea segment and the already infamous shot of a guy screwing an apple pie, but after "There's Something About Mary," "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," and "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut," there was nothing here I haven't seen before.

Well, except for the sex with dessert scene. Speaking of which, it may seem utterly ridiculous to think practically about this sort of thing, but I couldn't help wondering exactly how this guy expected to successfully masturbate with an apple pie. I mean, where's the friction, for Pete's Sake?

Most of the comedy in "American Pie" revolves around the embarrassment that comes with sex; from being caught in a compromising position to the awkwardness of the act itself. Fair enough, sexuality is a funny subject. But how about a little internal logic? Too many punchlines depend on situations that would never have occurred had the involved characters simply locked their door. While everyone fears public humiliation, teenagers are even more sensitive about potentially embarrassing situations, often to the point of paranoia. A teenager locks the door before masturbating in his room. Hell, a teenager locks the door before listening to CDs in his room. And I guarantee you, if a kid decided to have a sexual liaison with baked goods, he would not do so in broad daylight in his parent's kitchen. Jokes work better in at least a semi- realistic context and, too often, "American Pie" forgets that crucial point.

Still, the film is funny. The young cast (particularly pie-boy Jason Biggs) displays a nice gift for comedy and "SCTV" veteran Eugene Levy is a riot as the ultimate understanding father. But I enjoyed the relationships in the film more than the rude and crude shenanigans. Some of the pairings have a disarming, and very welcome, sweetness. When lacrosse player Oz (Chris Klein) sets his sights on young Heather (Mena Suvari), he tries to feign a sensitive side to win a place in her bed. Along the way, he discovers that he likes the man he is pretending to be.

The romantic story arc of Oz and Heather is the heart of the movie, thanks in large part to the magic of the actors. Chris Klein (Matthew Broderick's candidate in "Election") is bound for stardom, with his clean cut good looks complimented by an open, unaffected screen presence and Mena Suvani, who shares a passing resemblance to Heather Graham, has the rare ability to project strength and vulnerability at the same time.
Natasha Lyonne, so wonderful in "The Slums of Beverly Hills," makes the most of her much smaller role here. As Jessica, she dispenses advice on all matters related to sex and romance, while being the only character not in a relationship. Lyonne is a terrific actor with a great earthy quality, effectively painting Jessica as a young woman using a persona of frankness to avoid real intimacy. She left me wanting to know more about what makes Jessica tick, quite an accomplishment in this context.
Within the generally strong cast, there are a few duds. As Stifler, the mandatory sexist jock, newcomer Seann W. Scott looks and sounds like a junior Jim Carrey, giving a one-dimensional, leering performance that never elevates his character above archetype status. Chris Owen, who was good as an outcast intellectual in "October Sky," is annoying here as a smarmy geek with delusions of grandeur.

"American Pie" succeeds because of the winning efforts of most of its cast, coupled with deft editing, especially during the aforementioned Internet peep show scene, which turns a retread gag from "Revenge of the Nerds" into a genuinely funny set piece. And, even though teen sex comedies have been done to death, I found it impossible to resist laughing when a young man studies a homemade sex manual that includes a picture of a vibrator accompanied by the heading, "Know Your Enemy." "American Pie" is not as shocking as it desperately wants to be, but when it works, it works very well.

1999 Ed Johnson-Ott

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