American Pie (1999)

31 Jan

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Many people would call the 1982 raunch-o-rama box-office hit “Porky’s” a treasure (not me); many others will call it more sick and inappropriate than funny (like me). That brings to what could be considered the “Porky’s of the 1990s”—a movie called “American Pie.” This is a better, brighter, and funnier movie than “Porky’s” and people need to look to see that because there is a difference between cruelty and humor.

The teenagers in this movie are nicer and more appealing than anybody in “Porky’s”—also, they look and feel like high school teenagers when it seemed disturbing to look at the “teenagers” in “Porky’s.” The movie focuses mainly on four high school boys who make a pact to lose their virginities by the end of the senior year. They are nervous Jim (Jason Biggs), who doesn’t know what approach to take toward girls; slow-thinking but good-natured jock Oz (Chris Klein, also good in “Election”); Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), who has a girlfriend (Tara Reid) but is afraid of commitment; and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), the smart one who is so wound up that he never uses the school’s bathroom. They’re all best friends and they’re all virgins. They make their pact when a less-popular student loses his virginity to a popular girl.

Right away, you see how fresh the movie is—how many high school movies nowadays allow their central characters to be virgins? The four teenagers in this movie look and feel like real teenagers because they’re insecure about themselves and about women. And they’re inexperienced in sex. But they’re willing to have sex before graduation day and target the prom to lose their virginities after. In his part of the pact, Oz even joins the glee club to get closer to girls. This is dangerous for his social image because he also has lacrosse to think about. A refreshing move is that Oz doesn’t care much about that.

Jim has his eyes on an attractive foreign exchange student named Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth). After finally convincing her to come to his house, Jim is totally embarrassed when his webcam is turned on and pointed at him and Nadia as they get kinky in Jim’s bed. Everyone with a computer is watching…

Most of “American Pie’s” humor takes place in the form of vulgar gags, most of which make the movie so close to an NC-17 rating (instead, it is given an R). A couple comedies before this have had such gags—the hair gel scene in “There’s Something about Mary” and the tissue sample mistaken for coffee in the “Austin Powers” sequel. This time, in “American Pie,” semen has become main ingredient—for beer and for a pie, hence the title (which has nothing to do with the popular song). This is funny because the characters are not part of the joke. Here, they’re embarrassed, and we feel their embarrassment—how could we not? They don’t know what they’re doing, so it’s funny. Most gross-out gags in movies are not funny because we see them coming and they live to gross us out. Here, in “American Pie,” they’re here just to make us laugh. I laughed a lot during this movie. Also, the movie seems to be very frank about sex. The R rating just doesn’t give in.

There are three supporting characters that stand out among the other characters. One of them is Jim’s dad (Eugene Levy), who completely understands and tells his son how proud he is of him and that he feels his pain—maybe he’s been there before. I loved his lecture on the birds and the bees, using visual aids. When he finds his son doing something very unusual to the apple pie they were supposed to eat for dinner, he just says, “Well…we’ll just your mother we ate it all.” This is one of the best movie fathers in any teenage comedy. Another character that stands out is Kevin’s girlfriend’s best friend (Natasha Lyonne, whose deadpan comic timing is wonderful here). Finally, there’s the irritating (but also very funny) Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott). He’s enough of a sleazeball for us to want to slap him in the face, but enough of a smartass for us to laugh at him. He never shows any sign of sympathy for any of the other characters and would love to create misery for his own amusement. And I won’t dare say how he gets his comeuppance at the end of the movie, but let’s just say Finch now understands why “The Graduate” is a classic film.

“American Pie” has as many laughs as “Animal House” and a lot more laughs than “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” And like I said, it’s a much better film than “Porky’s” because it’s OK to be raunchy, crude, and vulgar…as long as it’s funny instead of cruel.

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