American Pie Reviewby "Stephen Graham Jones" (stephen AT cinemuck DOT com)
November 22nd, 1999
American Pie: the last american virgin
In Happiness everything revolved around a young boy's ejaculation, and we all kind of looked away and accepted it. In American Pie, happiness is ejaculation, only now there are enough puerile body fluid jokes that we can't look away. Too, though, the trailer didn't mislead us. With a logline like 'There's something about your first piece' and a title as suggestive as 'American Pie,' we have a pretty good idea what the movie's going to be about--getting some--which is of course hardly pioneer country for the hormone-charged teen flick. What is new ground, however, is getting caught in flagrante delicto with the pastry, which both adds a little something to the title and takes a little something away from afterdinner dessert.
But there are people in the movie, too, don't forget. Specifically, four high school guys--Jim (Jason Biggs), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), and Chris (Chris Klein)--virgins all, but not for a lack of trying. They are well-practiced though, should the need ever arise to prove themselves. And they do have lots of sure-fire schemes for scoring, all of which get launched three weeks before prom, when they make a Seinfeld-ish pact to get some either by or on prom night, which supplies the deadline these kinds of movie depend upon. Which is to say it allows a lot of comic foreplay before the big night.
But of course they big night can't be only about sex, either, but instead has to function as a collective disillusionment, an awakening to the fact that sex isn't quite as important as they've been fantasizing it was. Well, this is how it works for two of the four, anyway. For the other two, their illusions are simply reinforced. Fifty percent's better than no percent, though, and isn't really all that bad for a movie where everybody's playing 18 and under. And there are some good lines, the best of which is maybe from Kevin, the most likeable of the lot, trying to defend himself against his girlfriend: "It's not always about sex. I just though it was about sex this time."
The teen movie works best when the characters get lines like these, which, instead of speaking to the individual issues and concerns of a single teen, speaks for all teens. Which is to say it's bland and vague and wry enough that it applies to all, leaves no one out. And high school is of course about not being left out. That's more or less what Breakfast Club was about, yes? How similar we all are minus the social veneer? American Pie is no Breakfast Club, though--or Ridgemont High or Grease or Say Anything, either. It does play some token Simple Minds at the prom, however, but that's a gimme, just necessary homage. As are all the variations on Damone's time-honored tricks ('play side 2 of Led Zeppelin IV,' etc). No, American Pie, while entertaining, doesn't quite have the resonance of the Breakfast Clubs we know and love. It's more of a She's All That, with a little Stewardess School thrown in for good measure. Just be happy that Jim--our pieboy here--lives in a house without pets. It could have been a wholly different movie, then.
(c) 1999, Stephen Graham Jones, http://www.cinemuck.com
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