Monday, December 5, 2016

Drove My Chevy To The Levy

Year: 1999
Director: Paul Weitz
Cast: Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas
Run Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Howdy, folks! Now that Harry Potter and Halloween are safely out of the way, it’s time to begin yet another vaguely defined Popcorn Culture marathon! That’s right, we’re pulling another topic out of left field and embarking on a mostly chronological journey through the cinematic oeuvre of one Seann William Scott, a comic actor who I actually really like and who deserves a closer look.

Mostly, I just want to see what the hell Bulletproof Monk is all about.

Today, we’ll join our dear SWS where his path first crossed with Hollywood: his feature film debut in 1999’s American Pie. The ne plus ultra of high school sex comedies, American Pie follows the exploits of hapless everyteen Jim (Jason Biggs) and his best buddies Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), the blandest human being this side of Topher Grace, Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), a weirdo who fancies himself mature and sophisticated, and Oz(Chris Klein), a loveable lacrosse player/gentle giant.

After a raucous party in the home of their douchetastic friend Stifler (Sean W. Scott, as he is credited for the first and only time), they make a pact to lose their virginities by prom night, which is in three weeks’ time. Raunchy hijinks ensue as the boys set their sights on the girls who will hopefully help them become men: Jim on the naughty Eastern European exchange student Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth), Kevin on his terrible girlfriend Vickie (Tara Reid), Oz on lovely choir girl heather (Mena Suvari), and Finch on the school’s entire female population.

Get in line, ladies…

American Pie is The Odyssey for horny young men. Four high schoolers embark on a grand journey, have many incredible adventures, and arrive at their destination only to find that things have changes irrevocably, in their world and within themselves. Only instead of retrieving golden fleeces, they’re having sex with pies and live-streaming girls changing on a late-90’s webcam that really isn’t that much worse than Skype today. But I digress. What I’m saying is that American Pie has a vignette-driven plot that all services the higher throughline of young men realizing that the vaginas they so desperately want to have sex with are attached to women, and maybe those women are more valuable and interesting than they’re giving them credit for.

Now, I’m not saying American Pie is a feminist tract. The character of Nadia is a soulless automaton/breast dispensary that obliterates that idea like an A-bomb.

Although it’s more like a double-D bomb, am I right fellas? High five!

The story is only ever in service to the thoughts and desires of the young men at the center, but it must be said that a lot of the female characters are uncommonly fleshed-out for this kind of film, especially Heather, Vickie, and Vickie’s BFF Jessica (Natasha Lyonne). They’re not depicted as Rubik’s cubes that need to be solved in order to unlock access to boobs, they’re actual characters, even if they still mostly fit into teen movie archetypes. And Alyson Hannigan’s band geek Michelle’s rapacious sexuality is used as a shock gag here, but it eventually becomes a part of a layered, fairly realistic female high school character as the franchise goes on.

And that’s one of the things about American Pie that makes it so remarkable. Its characters are actually recognizable high schoolers. They’re not fast-talking, hyperintelligent Kevin Williamson creations. And they’re not airbrushed 90210 studs and vixens. They’re awkward, sweaty horndogs that quote nerdy kung fu movies and who want to be adults, but aren’t quite sure exactly what that means. Even Oz, as a jock, is a fumbling, insecure young man still growing into his body and his athleticism. These characters feel like real people you’d see in the halls by your locker, and that’s why their exploits are so captivating. They’re grounded in reality so they’re allowed to go absolutely bugnuts with the sexual misadventures.

Also, Michelle is possibly the best character in cinema history.

But I’ve spent so long diving deep into analysis, I bet you’ve almost forgotten this is a movie about dick jokes. Very good dick jokes, but still. American Pie is a movie that has a comical reaction shot from a monkey, so it’s not exactly Kurosawa. Another reason the jokes and situations land so well is that they’re delivered by some truly committed actors (other than Thomas Ian Nicholas, who seems to be in a perpetual daze, pretty much everybody else is bringing their A-game) like Eugene Levy, who is superb as Jim’s awkward father who attempts to appear sexually open while simultaneously maintaining his buttoned-up Ward Cleaver image.

And I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Seann William Scott in this marathon dedicated to him. Stifler is only ever a one-note character, but his sideline status allows SWS to go cartoonishly big and have a lot of fun. This was his first feature film outing, so the performance is a little rough around the edges, but you can already feel his confidence and charisma bursting through the screen.

Bottom line, I like American Pie a lot. But on this viewing, I couldn’t help but notice the seams of its low budget. First off, the movie’s title looks like it was slapped on in Windows Movie Maker, but there are also a handful of scenes that are a little underlit or otherwise technically flawed. But beyond that, it’s just a delightful teen comedy that I adore from the bottom of my heart.

TL;DR: American Pie is a delightful, reasonably realistic, raunchy teen comedy.
Rating: 8/10
Word Count: 948
Reviews In This Series
American Pie (Weitz, 1999)
American Pie 2 (Rogers, 2001)
American Wedding (Dylan, 2003)
American Reunion (Hurwitz & Schlossberg, 2012)

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