Directed by Paul Weitz, Produced by Chris Weitz
Screenplay by Adam Herz
With Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas,
Eddie Kaye Thomas, Alyson Hannigan, Natasha Lyonne, Shannon
Elizabeth, Mena Suvari, Tara Reid, Seann William Scott and
Rated R, 95 minutes. (1999)
It's refreshing, if not exactly revolutionary, for a mainstream
Hollywood movie to acknowledge that males bring a carload
of anxieties to the sexual arena. Despite its teen-sex-comedy
plot, American Pie is at least honest enough to acknowledge
that, for all their professed eagerness to get laid, teenage
boys are often scared witless about the prospect of actually
having sex with another human being.
The marketing campaign for American Pie is trying
to push it as this summer's raunchy sex comedy, and in many
ways it fulfills that promise. Its plot certainly fits the
mold: four horny teenage boys, a few weeks shy of graduation,
vow to leave high school with their diplomas but without their
virginity (virginities?). Of course, humiliation, degradation
and frustration - always good for a laugh, especially if you're
safely past the age of your own teenage fumblings - ensue.
While this summary might lead you to expect something like
Porky's or a looser, more explicit Risky Business,
American Pie is closer in spirit to last year's summer
comedy hit, There's Something About Mary, which also
squeezed humor out of male sexual fears, from castration to
homosexual panic. Pie comes in much lower on the raunch-o-meter
than Mary, despite what you may have heard about one
character's intimate encounter with a baked good generally
associated with Mom and baseball. Pie is also shorter
on the belly laughs than the crude, cruel Mary, but
it does display a fair amount of wit and a fun, genial spirit.
This despite the fact that like Mary, and unlike the
1980s-era sex comedies, Pie is more about the dangers
of sex than the fun. For example, Jim (Jason Biggs) tries
to fulfill a Penthouse Forum-style fantasy (beautiful Czech
exchange student - read sexually available/sophisticated -
comes to his house and changes her clothes in his room). Jim,
who has been persuaded to share his incredible good fortune
by sending a live feed of the striptease to a few friends
via the Internet, ends up broadcasting his own sexual inadequacies
to the entire school.
It's also telling that Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), the character
who would seem to be in the least need of peer group support
to have sex (he already has a steady girlfriend, played by
Tara Reid), is not only the instigator of the anti-virginity
pact, he also works the hardest to keep it going despite the
travails and humiliations it brings to all his friends. Plainly
put, the prospect of sex - and all that it implies about change
in a relationship - scares him, and he's looking for the support
of his friends.
Pie's best feature is in showing that some teenage
girls are at least as horny, and certainly a few degrees hipper,
than the guys. At opposite ends of the geekiness scale, Alyson
Hannigan (from TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
and Natasha Lyonne (who was excellent in last year's underrated
female coming-of-age flick Slums of Beverly Hills)
both know the score and know how to score. Hannigan is especially
funny as the ultimate band nerd who has found some interesting
uses for her flute.
It's also nice to see Eugene Levy, of the late great SCTV,
trying to dispense fatherly wisdom to son Jim without either
of them dying of embarrassment.
The movie is by no means perfect. With a few exceptions the
actors are too bland to overcome their assigned types (jock,
nice guy, pseudo-sophisticate, nerd) with more than a few
hints of individuality. They attend a TV-style high school,
where even the losers look well-scrubbed, and even the best
jokes are dragged out long enough to induce a few cringes
along with the laughs.
Pie is attempting a tough balancing act - just enough
outrageous sexual and bathroom humor for the adolescents who
will see it despite its R rating, but with a few touches of
sensitivity and romance to appeal to older and/or female audiences.
But it's a difficult feat to make a raunchy sex comedy that's
also a date movie, and Pie sometimes loses its way
as it chases too many demographics.
(This article originally appeared in Films in Review, www.filmsinreview.com)