American Pie Review

by Jeremy McVay (jeremcvay AT yahoo DOT com)
July 16th, 1999

American Pie
Director: Paul Weitz; Screenwriter: Adam Herz
Country: USA; Year: 1999
Rating (4 star system): *

    I like comedy. Who doesn't? I'm sure there are those who don't, but I have yet to meet them. Comedy, at its best, reflects our culture. But it does not merely reflect it for observation. Great comedy can make insights into culture in ways that make us realize not only how we are, but also how we should be. Great comedy makes profound observations so that we can possibly make profound insights. Great comedy makes one think.
    American Pie may be the furthest thing from profundity that I have yet seen onscreen. Sure, many of the characterizations are pretty good; unfortunately, characters in the film reminded me of some people I went to high school with, but I learned nothing new from seeing them portrayed onscreen. That is, unless you count the "insight" that teenagers are apparently obsessed with sex among profound realizations. Obviously, I do not.
    So many films have already treaded this water, that it seems amazing that no one has yet drowned in their wake. For some reason, these films continue to make money. I suppose they are reaching an audience, but it is apparently not an audience of which I am a part. I will avoid calling the humor in this film "gross-out" humor as so many already have. Instead, I will call it "gag humor." The film is simply a series of gags that, while obviously related through their teenage angst and sexual content, fail to coalesce in any way to speak about anything. At no point did I learn anything new from the seemingly endless stream of gags.
    The question now raised may be, "does a series of gags necessarily need to answer some larger question or make some unique statement?" And while I believe any film that achieves this has all the greater potential to be a great film, I do believe a film can be great without doing so. Gag humor is obviously nothing new. I tend to think of a number of silent films that relied on numerous gags, and even a number of these were great films without making a profound statement. Why, then, were these films great? Probably because they were great exercises in storytelling and cinema. This brings us back to American Pie and its qualities as cinema (or lack thereof).
    First of all, the screenplay was horrendous. Perhaps the only film I have seen so far this year that is more trite would be The Mummy. Every joke was so obvious and repetitive that, by the time the credits rolled, I felt as if I'd already seen the film half a dozen times [and perhaps I have with different actors and titles]. Those jokes that did somehow seem relatively new relied, for the most part, on shock value, which means it's really only funny once or twice if at all. Even if I had enjoyed the film the first time, I'm sure that I would enjoy it less and less every time I re-screened it.
    Perhaps not all can be blamed on the writing. Most of the acting was pretty bad as well. None of the cast really seemed very natural. It all seemed forced. Again, this goes back to the situations involved in the screenplay, but the acting only magnified the feeling. Some of the acting was, of course, better than the rest- most notable would be Chris Klein as Oz, the jock of the group. Between this film and Election, I would say he is one to watch. He just needs to choose the right breakthrough. Alyson Hannigan as Michelle, the flute-toting band geek, provided the only moments where I really laughed at all through the whole film, but it still remains to be seen whether any more should be expected from her. Jason Biggs as Jim, the most desperate of the group, was merely watchable, as was SCTV alum, Eugene Levy, as his father, and the rest of the cast was either throw-away or unwatchable. As for the direction, not much can really be said. Why is this? Basically because there was none. It was as unnoticeable as it was useless.
    This is hardly the first film to rely on gross-out humor [err.... I mean gag humor], but unlike films such as last year's There's Something About Mary (which I enjoyed to some extent), this film was a useless exercise in mindless "entertainment." It remains to be seen what the lasting value of films such as the aforementioned Mary will be, but they seemed to at least make some sort of effort at being new and well-crafted. American Pie seems to be more fleeting than any film I have seen... Or maybe I should say "remember" as I have forgotten those films I'm sure I've seen that were somehow more fleeting than this.
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