Posted: 08/18/1999

 

American Pie

(1999)

by Jon Bastian



A sex comedy where four boys really do become men, but not in the way they expected — and there’s the rub. So to speak.


Film Monthly Home
Archives
Wayne Case
Interviews
Steve Anderson
The Rant
Short Takes (Archived)
Small Screen Monthly
Behind the Scenes
New on DVD
The Indies
Horror
Film Noir
Coming Soon
Now Playing
Television
Books on Film
What's Hot at the Movies This Week
Interviews TV

I envy the teens of the 90s. Oh, sure, a lot of the crap they have to put up with sucks. “Zero tolerance” policies are one of the stupidest ideas ever invented, and Rave drugs (unlike the teen fave of my era, pot) can kill you instantly. On the other hand, Generation Y2K has the Internet, which brings the ability to connect with others like yourself instantly, and eliminates the need to raid big brother’s secret mag stash for erotic inspiration.

These kids also have much, much better teen sex comedies, dammit, “American Pie” being a case in point.

On the surface, it’s just like every other teen sex comedy. A bunch of guys really, really want to get laid, and go to extremes to do it, generally humiliating themselves along the way, to the accompaniment of a bunch of gross bodily function jokes. Where this film differs is this: It actually has a moral. Some of our heroes really do get their cherries popped by movie’s end, but not without a price, and that price is a little personal growth.

The premise of the film, as mentioned above, is simple. Four high school friends learn that one of their compatriots has gotten laid. This wouldn’t be a bad thing, except that their friend is, well, to be charitable, butt-ugly. Imagine the bastard child of Howdy Doody and Paula Jones and you get the idea — which is why our four heroes are so upset. If this guy can get laid, why can’t they? And so, they make a pact. They will lose their collective virginities by prom night, three weeks away. Never mind that only one of them has any serious prospect of doing so. Their goal is set, and they proceed in their various ways to achieve it. One of them, Chris (Chris Klein) decides to go the “Mr. Sensitive” route. Another, Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) manages to plant rumors about his sexual prowess and equipment. The guy with the girlfriend, Kevin, (Thomas Ian Nicholas) blows it after his girlfriend, well, blows it — but then lucks into a legendary high school book documenting every sexual secret learned by its owner since time immemorial.

Finally, there’s our ostensible hero, Jim (Jason Biggs). If you’ve seen the trailer, you know that he gets parentally caught not only whacking off to porn, but with his whang in the titular baked-good. He also becomes an inadvertent Internet star (not in a good way) and gets a very 90s education about gender roles. Although this is really an ensemble piece, Jim is the emotional center of the film, and Biggs’s very touching, real performance bolsters what is, despite what you may think or expect, the inherent sweetness of this movie.

Yeah, I know — sweetness and teen sex comedy would seem to be oil and water, and in an earlier age they would have been. But, in the world of “American Pie,” the women are not sex objects to be drooled over. The women run the show, and the only villains are the guys who act like relics from 80s teen sex comedies. Not victimized by their hormonal urges, the women are in control. Standouts in the cast are Alyson Hannigan (“Buffy, the Vampire Slayer”) as a band geek with more than a few hidden surprises; Shannon Elizabeth as a sensuous exchange student; and the ever-incredible Natasha Lyonne as the single girl with guts. (Side note: Natasha, who was amazing in “The Slums of Beverly Hills,” is, despite her youth, fast turning into a hard-boiled sidekick gal character actress in the best 1930s tradition. Her screen presence is such that she steals every scene she’s in without even trying. If there’s a 90s version of “It,” she’s got… well, it.)

Anyway, while the women control events in the movie, the men are its heart and soul, and we care about every one of our main quartet. While, at first, they seem to be just another collection of teen guys controlled by their dicks, the surfaces are peeled away so that, as they each suffer their separate humiliations, we feel for them even as we laugh at their predicaments. Each of them is trying really hard to just do the right thing, not quite grasping the “why” of their various failures.

In retrospect, because of the positive lessons learned, it’s a wonder this film isn’t rated PG-13 — it’s precisely the 13 to 18 year old crowd who needs to hear the message. So what if there are some obscene words and naughty jokes? I can’t believe it took the filmmakers four tries to get an R rating instead of an NC-17. As it is, there’s one (nice) pair of tits and barely half a male ass in the movie, and that’s it. As teen sex comedies go, the actual sex is surprisingly tame. Okay, so there’s a spooge laden beverage, the aforementioned pastry humping, some masturbation, two premature ejaculations, two acts of oral sex, one mention of an unusual use for a musical instrument, and the sonically graphic end-result of some laxative spiked mochacchino. In other words, pretty tame stuff for the average teen of the 90’s. The MPAA needs to pull their heads out of their asses (fat chance) and actually listen to what a film is saying, as opposed to how it’s saying it. Ultimately, “American Pie” says that thinking with the little head leads to no good; feeling with the heart and thinking with the big head will get you everywhere. Ultimately, the message of the movie is simply “Respect,” the same motto that Columbine High School kids are now sporting on their Gap vests as they return to school.

Now, as a parent, which message would you rather send your kids? That blowing shit up is cool? Or that, while sex is a wonderful, wonderful thing to be desired, it’s not something to be taken casually?

When Adam Herz was circulating this script around town, he called it “Untitled Teenage Sex Comedy That Can Be Made For Under $10 Million That Most Readers Will Probably Hate But I Think You Will Love.” He sure got that right. I love this flick, and if I had teenagers of my own, I’d insist that they see it before they even attempted dating. Yeah, I envy kids of the 90s. They can get their gross humor and some sensitivity training at the same time. And that, my friends, is much better than the “one or the other, not both” attitude of the 80s. Let’s hope the trend continues.

Jon Bastian is a native and resident of Los Angeles and is a playwright and screenwriter who works in the TV trade to keep his dog rolling in kibble.



Got a problem? E-mail us at filmmonthly@gmail.com