American Pie Reviewby Mr. Bryan Frankenseuss Theiss (franknseus AT aol DOT com)
July 11th, 1999
There are a couple of movies this summer that we've been hearing too much about for months. I'm not talking about manufactured hype that comes from huge advertising budgets and star studded Entertainment Tonight appearances. Rather, I'm talking about the kind of positive word-of-mouth and word-of-word-processor that starts with test screenings and spreads across the internet and magazine sidebars and turns the entire cast into celebrities and it-people long before the film's release. Before tonight, I had already seen or read about most of the big jokes in American Pie, even the shots that were cut out. And I'd heard about how outrageous and funny and surprisingly moral it was.
The hype, not surprisingly, has backfired. The movie's not bad - I certainly enjoyed it more than most of the recent crop of teen comedies like Can't Hardly Wait and She's All That. It's more observant, it pushes the envelope in a few ways that a lot of former teen boys can relate to, and it has more laughs. But most of the film's charm was wasted away in the advertising. We already saw the hapless protagonist, played by Jason Biggs, caught watching a scrambled porn channel with a tube sock over his penis. We know why the movie is called American Pie and what Eugene Levy, as Biggs' father, has to say about it. And worst of all, TV advertisements have given away a great shock value line by the film's funniest supporting character.
I can understand why test screening audiences might have loved the movie when it came as a surprise, but once you strip away the surprising freshness of these jokes, you leave a pretty standard teen sex comedy. While some of the male characters show a fairly honest portrait of the humiliation of being a teenage boy, many of the female characters are a ludicrous fantasy. Most typical of the genre is a model-like "European exchange student" who at first gives Biggs the cold shoulder, then with no explanation or motivation invites herself over to his house to strip naked and masturbate to his porn magazines. There is also a hard-to-buy subplot about numerous girls trying to date a nerdy character because he's rumored to have a large penis.
But Natasha Lyonne and Alyson Hannigan do bring a lot of charisma to their small roles. Lyonne, who was appealing as the star of the rather dull Slums of Beverly Hills, doesn't really do anything besides offer sex advice to the other characters. But Hannigan, known for playing Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, gets some of the movie's biggest laughs with her goofy portrayal of a nerdy flutist.
Most of the cast is good - Biggs shows particular promise as an oft-humiliated everyman. Eddie Kaye Thomas, who plays Finch, seems doomed to the life of the unnoticed character actor. He's believable as a dead-eyed misfit who doesn't know how to use a public restroom. Chris Klein may be typecast as dumb but likable jocks after this and a similar (but more memorable) role in Election.
Although I think it's been overwhelmed by its hype, people are definitely still enjoying the movie. Teens and pre-teens will laugh hard at it, and if the audience I saw it with is any indication then the younger kids will repeat all of the punchlines out loud two or three times. These kids didn't seem to know what was going to happen to the pie, and even if they had, the movie itself can't really be faulted for its advertising.
But the aspect of the American Pie hype that is a bit silly is the claim that it's "surprisingly sweet." It's full of sex talk and disgusting bodily function mishaps, goes the argument, but you know what? In the end it turns out - and I know you're not going to believe this, but I swear to god it's true - in the end it turns out to have a heart of gold, a solid moral and message of love to impart to the teens of America.
But what, honestly, did these people expect? The heroes finally get laid, and then they light up joints, high five each other and the credits roll over an epic kegger/wet t-shirt contest? Of course it ends with a positive message upholding wholesome family values. Even if they do all get laid. That's how all teen movies turn out in the end.
Bryan Frankenseuss Theiss
"Shit, I'm the *reverse* of jiggy." --Chuck D
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