Posted: 08/09/2003

 

American Wedding

(2003)

by Jon Bastian



The Star Wars of teen comedies, in more ways than one.


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I’ve decided after seeing the third installment of the American Pie trilogy that these three movies are the Star Wars of teen comedies. In fact, the trio of films follows the pattern of Episodes IV, V and VI to a T. The original American Pie, like Star Wars, snuck out unexpectedly, a new take on an old genre that changed everything. Small, unassuming, a surprise hit. American Pie II, truly The Empire Strikes Back of the series, extended the original story and the formula, brought us everything we expected and more, and really developed the characters. I don’t exactly mean it as an insult to compare America Wedding to Return of the Jedi because, like its Star Wars counterpart, this film is weak on its own but works in context. Or, in other words, if you’re a fan of the first two movies, then the (presumable) finale is a must-see. If you’re lukewarm or never saw both previous films, then you can just skip this one.

After following our heroes through their last weeks of high school and their first semester of college, we catch up with them four years later. Now graduated, Jim (Jason Biggs, Woody Allen’s upcoming Anything Else), proposes to band camp gal Michelle (Alyson Hannigan, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Since this is Jim we’re talking about here, events conspire to cause him major embarrassment right off the bat as his father unwittingly reveals what the bride-to-be has been up to under the table. The rest of the film follows our characters in the run-up to the wedding. It’s much lighter on plot than the previous films and, surprisingly, much tamer. Several of the set pieces are hilarious, but the mirth doesn’t feel as sustained as it did before, especially in AP II.

Complicating events, nobody wants Stifler (Seann William Scott, Dude, Where’s My Car?) anywhere near the wedding. So, naturally, he becomes not only determined to attend, but to be best man as well. Stifler doesn’t quite get why no one likes him until Michelle’s little sister Cadence (January Jones, Anger Management) arrives in town and he overhears what he thinks she’s looking for in a guy. Unfortunately for Stifler, Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas, Stolen Summer) sees her first and looks set to score when Stifler realizes it’s his crassness that turns people off. He sets about turning into the suave intellectual in order to bone Cadence. Or, in other words, he becomes Finch. Meanwhile, Finch wrongly assumes that Cadence wants a nasty boy and so becomes Stifler. Getting short-shrift in all of this is Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas, The Rules of Attraction), who is pushed mostly to the side here — although that may be intended irony, since his character was the most sexually experienced in the original film, making him the guy most likely to have had his glory day in high school, only to go downhill from there. Missing from the film, but not really missed, are Oz (Chris Klein, Rollerball) and Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth, Thirteen Ghosts). Sadly absent is Michelle’s best friend Jessica (Natasha Lyonne, Kate & Leopold), quite possibly the strongest woman of the entire series — and it is a touch odd that the bride would lack a bridesmaid here.

What I missed most from the other two films, though, was the strong sense of successive set-up and pay-off, in which the punch line to one joke would become the set-up for another in a seamless series of escalating madness. Of course, that kind of thing is really hard to pull off. That screenwriter Adam Herz managed to do it twice in a row is amazing enough. Asking for a hat trick would be a bit much, and there’s still more inventiveness and humor on display here than in any half dozen other teen comedies of recent vintage.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked American Wedding because (shades of Star Wars again) these are characters I’m invested in, and I’m truly interested in seeing what happens to them. As always, everyone learns a little and grows a lot, particularly Stifler, who finally does manage several (almost) selfless acts. True to form, Eugene Levy (A Mighty Wind) is right on the nose as Jim’s father, a man who tries really hard to help and do the right thing, but far too often winds up saying and doing the wrong thing. It’s never stated implicitly, but if you read between the lines, it’s obvious — Dad is the man Jim is going to grow up to be because Jim is the young man that Dad was. Now there’s an idea for the next trilogy — set it twenty years before American Pie, have it be all about Jim’s father as a teenager… uh, no. On second thought, let’s not.

Jason Biggs, as always is yummy… er, very effective in his role as the heart and soul of the proceedings, and Seann William Scott breaks out here. This is probably the first time we actually feel for Stifler. As well, Eddie Kaye Thomas is really growing on me as Finch, seeming far less above it all than previously and coming across as rather endearing. It’s probably the trickiest role to pull off acting-wise, and he does something very subtle in his last shot that shouts volumes about who Finch really is. I won’t give it away, but compare the personality he’s expressing with his face at the very end, then think about the situation and you’ll come to some very… let’s say, Freudian conclusions. Now that’s brilliant, well thought-out work.

So, again — if you’re a fan of the first two, then you have to have another piece of Pie. Some of the set pieces are truly hilarious, particularly a mini French farce involving a suddenly aborted bachelor party, and a dance duel set in a gay bar. One sight gag is, well, just that — a real gag, in the other sense of the word. But, on the whole, there are far less bodily fluids flying around this time out, although there is a rather spectacularly spoiled baked good.

Our characters have finally grown up and, if the filmmakers are wise, they’ll gracefully bow out of the series now and end it with a third act that, again, doesn’t quite stand on its own but works in perfect concert with the first two.

Jon Bastian is a playwright and screenwriter who lives in his hot and smoggy native Los Angeles.



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