The Mother Brain Files: The American Pie Series

The Mother Brain Files: The American Pie Series
By Mother Brain

For anyone in my generation who attended high school in the late 90s and early 2000s, the movie American Pie was a metaphorical snapshot of our lives as teenagers. Long after the era of 80s sex romps like Porky’s and Fast Times at Ridgemont High had died off, American Pie revived the genre with relatable characters having raging hormones that often lead to hilarious scenarios. It turned unknown young actors like Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, and Shannon Elizabeth into overnight movie stars while also dusting off the career of SCTV alumnus Eugene Levy.

I had originally planned on writing a full review about the recent entry to the series American Reunion. But I felt that with this recent nostalgia kick I’ve been getting since it’s been 10 years since my own high school graduation, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to look back at the previous three films (minus the abortion of direct-to-video spin-offs) and give my own take on each one as I remember them. So here we go now:

American Pie (1999)

This $11 million comedy with no stars had a brilliant marketing campaign. The subtleties in the trailer and posters with Michelle’s band camp flute and the hole in an apple pie were enough to get kids to run out to theaters and tell their friends all about this riot of a teen movie. For those who never saw the film, it followed Michigan high school seniors Jim, Kevin, Oz, and Finch who devise a pact to lose their virginity before graduating high school. The humor in each character’s arc is unique. Jim (Biggs) does everything from masturbating in a sock to having intercourse with a pie as he pursues and prepares to lose his virginity to foreign exchange student Nadia (Elizabeth) which leads to humiliating results. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) has to lose his virginity to girlfriend Vicky (Tara Reid) without breaking up with her over sex. Oz (Chris Klein), the lacrosse player, does everything imaginable to trash his jock image to win over choir girl Heather (Mena Suvari). Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) pays Vicky’s friend to spread rumors about being well endowed to attract girls until his plans are thwarted by party monster Steve Stifler (Scott). Ultimately, he gets what he wants and revenge at the same time thanks to Stifler’s Mom (Jennifer Coolidge) In the midst of all the madness, there’s such colorful characters as band camp girl Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) who ultimately becomes Jim’s prom date and devirginizes him as well as Jim’s Dad (Levy) who is always there to give his son man-to-man advice along with some pornography.

Although the trailers and early word of mouth guaranteed huge success, I was one of the few teenagers who did not run out to see the film in theaters at the time. I would be later suckered by advertisements to by the unrated cut on DVD which really wasn’t anything different from the theatrical release. Nevertheless, I found it to be not only hilarious and sexy but almost genuine at the same time. As a guy in the audience, you feel included in the group and are taken along the ride, rooting for these guys to score and feeling bad when they fail. The scene when Jim’s disfunction during the near-sexual encounter Nadia gets caught on camera to be seen by the entire school, you can’t help but feel for the kid even though it’s a funny scene. Perhaps it’s moments like these that made us love this characters and continue to follow them over the course of the next three movies.
American Pie 2 (2001)

Instead of going the typical sequel route of showing the characters in college, we get to see what their lives are like during the summer after finishing their first year in college. The lives of the characters have changed to certain degrees. Jim still remains single and stud-less, Vicky and Kevin have broken up, Oz and Heather have a long distance relationship, and Finch gets into the art of Tantra while waiting to reunite with Stifler’s mom. On top of all this, Stifler’s role gets beefed up as he helps the guys rent a summer house in Grand Harbor so they can have the best summer of their lives. Now the level of dirty humor gets raised as we see everything from Jim accidentally using superglue to masturbate as well as he and Stifler being forced to make out in front of some lesbian neighbors. But the central story in the film is Jim reuniting with Michelle to be his pretend girlfriend in front of a visiting Nadia until he’s ready to have sex with her. But this only leads to the dramatic turnaround in the series when Jim and Michelle develop real feelings for each other.

This one I got to see in the theater the summer it was released. While it outgrossed the original, I don’t remember it being as funny as the first film. Aside from the Jim/Michelle/Nadia triangle, the other subplots with the characters were not as interesting nor do they lead to any satisfying conclusion. To me, it was the equivalent of The Hangover Part II which was replicating old jokes from the original and lacking a solid script.
American Wedding (2003)

We fast forward past college as Jim and Michelle prepare for a quick wedding ceremony before Jim’s grandmother passes on. This time around, several characters (Oz, Vicky, Nadia, etc) were gone since the actors were not contracted for a third film. Now Stifler’s role gets beefed up even more to not only help plan the bachelor party but also compete  with Finch over Michelle’s hot sister (Mad Men’s January Jones). All the hijinks of planning a wedding go down between the parents of the bride and groom walking into the bachelor party, Jim shaving his pubic hair which dispenses into the wedding cake through a vent, Stifler accidentally sabotaging the decorations and having sex with Jim’s grandmother in a dark closet, etc. But it all works out in the end when the wedding goes down and Finch gets another hot and steamy moment with Stifler’s mom.

When I look back at Wedding, it had some improvements over the 2nd film while not being the classic like the original. Losing some of the old characters helped make the script more focused and not be over-saturated with subplots. The wedding angle did help freshen up the franchise and make it relatable to young people in my generation who were getting to that age. Even Fred Willard was a welcome addition to the series as Michelle’s dad. But there’s no question that the film was really the Steve Stifler show. With a number of box office hits under his belt at the time, Seann William Scott seemed to emerge as the breakout star of the franchise. So the Stifler role went from being a complete dickhead to the dickhead with a heart which may have caused the character, and the franchise, to suffer quite a bit. Though it still managed to make over $100 million.

American Reunion (2012)

After 9 years and several bad straight-to-video sequels, the entire original cast came back together as young adults for their high school reunion. Rather than make it all about Jim and Michelle or Stifler, Reunion goes back to having multiple subplots to show how some of the characters in the film are trying to regain something from the past that they want back while other characters are trying to push on towards the future. Jim and Michelle struggle to keep the fire alive as adults, a newlywed Kevin gets awkward feelings around old flame Vicky, Finch finds new romance with Michelle’s geeky band camp friend-turned-hottie (Heroes’ Dania Ramirez), and Oz wants Heather back in his life after living like a celebrity phony for so long in Hollywood. Stifler once again becomes a crucial part of the story now as a frustrated office intern yearning to revive his wild party days. Even the role of Jim’s Dad gets expanded as his son convinces him to return to the dating scene following the passing of Jim’s Mom which leads to disastrous but laugh-out-loud results.

Even though there was less female nudity than previous entries, Reunion to me was arguably the best sequel in the series. I’d say the writers wanted to elevate the crudeness of the humor due to Judd Apatow’s recent successes. The jokes go way beyond any of the sequels when it comes to jokes about dicks and poo (See the movie to understand). The conclusions for each subplot pay off nicely with some neat surprises, one of which calls back the first film and has a reference to Tom Cruise’ first hit, Risky Business. It was a bit too high concept at times when the guys start a rivalry with some jerk teenagers associated with Jim’s horny neighbor who he used to babysit as well as the number of celebrity cameos which reminded me of the Scream sequels. Even the Kevin/Vicky relationship fell flat due to Tara Reid’s spaced out performance; however, in Reid’s defense, Shannon Elizabeth’s one minute cameo felt more like a quick paycheck than hers. Thankfully, the movie did not act as a torch-passing to a new cast of characters to continue the franchise. But if this is the last hurrah, it was a damn good one.

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