When American Pie came out 13 years ago, I was smack-dab in the middle of being a goofy high-schooler. My friends were too, and we immediately latched on to the film’s raunchy humor, awkward sexual shenanigans, and Shannon Elizabeth’s boobage. (Well, what did you expect? We were only freshmen.) And while I didn’t realize it at the time, I absolutely identified with the character of Jim, who existed as a pubescent everyman. Oh hey, I did too! I played sports, but was never a jock. I got above-average grades, but was never a brain. I was relatively attractive, but hadn’t the foggiest idea how to talk to girls. Jim and I were cut from the same sticky, tube-shaped cloth.
My upbringing was a factor, to be sure. As I’ve mentioned on Unreality before, I grew up in an extremely conservative household where R-rated movies still aren’t welcome, so sneaking out to watch one at the age of 14 made AP’s raunchiness that much more . . . well, titillating.
Over a decade has passed since the first installment of this franchise, however, and when I heard they were assembling most of the original cast for yet another sequel, I felt a twinge of sadness in my cinematic soul. I mean, of course I’d watch it eventually—even if American Wedding hadn’t proven these characters’ shelf lives expired years ago. I’m a chronic nostalgia junkie, after all.
Anyway, I finally got around to absorbing American Reunion during my last lazy Sunday. I was entertained, I’ll admit, but walked away from this dramedy (?) feeling mostly depressed. Here’s why.
[Note: Criticism aside, if you were a fan of the original American Pie, American Reunion is definitely worth a look. Just for the nostalgia. Also, there are spoilers below.]
To start off, let’s talk numbers. As I mentioned before, the original AP came out 13 years ago, which means I’m roughly twice as old as when I first watched it. Sure, this math makes me feel a little old, but no matter who you are or how popular you were in high school, those will never be the best years of your life. Ever. If they are, that sucks, because it really isn’t until after high school that you begin to understand who you are as a person and what your place is in this world. New perspectives are discovered. Horizons are broadened. Skills are acquired. Non-superficial relationships are formed. I am exponentially happier today than I was in high school, and if all goes to plan, I’ll evolve into a downright jubilant octogenarian.
Now, back to the movie. Aside from Stiffler (and Finch, who I’ll get to later), everyone in the original crew has made something of themselves: Jim is a married homeowner with a kid; Kevin is a married architect; and Oz is the douchiest sportscaster in history. None of that stuff happens overnight, either; you have to earn that kind of forward momentum. But with all the subjective life lessons they must have learned along the way, it doesn’t make a ton of sense that they’re still longing for the “good ol’ days” of immature pranks and sexual ineptitude. (The last of those sentiments should have disappeared somewhere in the middle of college.) And ignoring the fact that 13 years is a random-ass time to have a high school reunion, it’s also a little pathetic how excited they are for what amounts to be a pretty anticlimactic event.
Predictably, somewhere in the middle of this movie Stiffler throws a huge party, and just as predictably, it doesn’t go as planned. Part of this has to do with the attendance of Jim’s dad, who’s now a widower for some reason. Contextually, I guess this makes sense; loved ones are taken from us as time marches on. But Jim’s mom couldn’t have died of old age (her death must have been a least a little tragic), and this simple fact kind of hovered in the background of Eugene Levy’s dialogue, which used to come off as endearingly awkward. Each humorous line seemed to be tempered with an inexplicable brand of melancholy, and if you recognize why he’s at Stiffler’s party to begin with—because his asshole son, who would rather hang out with his chronically nostalgic friends than spend even a couple hours with his clearly grieving father, invited him along—it’s not super funny when Steve spitefully forces the poor guy to take shots. Not to me, anyway. (On a side note, I never thought I’d use the word “endearing” to describe a blowski. Like, ever.)
Which brings me back to Stiffler. In AP, AP2, and AW, it’s pretty organic for his character to hit on high school and college chicks. He’s a horndog, we get it. But in AR, it’s not 18-, 20-, or even 25-year-old Stiffler who’s sneaking into a blacked-out, barely-18-year old’s bedroom just to get “another glimpse” of her naked breasts as her parents sit downstairs. Nope, that’s 31-year-old Stiffler, and yep, that’s more than a little creepy. This scene is highly entertaining, but it looked like the entire situation could have taken a turn for the Very Bad Things at any moment.
Another problem I have with this movie is how it accidentally contradicts its predecessors. In the first three films, the fellas make some mistakes and get into a few raunchy shenanigans. But no harm, no foul, right? They learn some valuable lessons about their junk and (presumably) move forward with their lives. In AR, however, the stakes are higher for these shenanigans because adulthood, and it seems pretty clear that whatever lessons they learned never actually sank in. Even though the movie ends on a high note, Negative-Nelly-Realist TJ would like to point out a few of this grand finale’s implications:
- Jim and Michelle – What with how flippantly this franchise deals with sexuality, it’s easy to forget what an important component sex is for loving, healthy relationships. As funny as it might be to watch on screen, there’s nothing healthy about mutually choosing masturbation over intercourse when your life partner is literally a stone’s throw away. A weekend of nostalgic promiscuity doesn’t magically whisk away a couple’s rocky sex life.
- Kevin – After a night of blacked-out drunkenness, Kevin wakes up in bed (sans clothes) next to his high school flame. He didn’t actually sleep with her, but drunken mistakes happen, and it’s not like he doesn’t have a history of binge drinking. Yeah, I’m sure the rest of his marriage is going to be awesome.
- Finch – This man is clearly a pathological liar and borderline sociopath. He also stole a motorcycle on a whim. And his last job was at Staples. After reunion weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised if his friends cut all ties with him just for being a loose cannon. Nobody wants to deal with that shit in their 30s.
- Oz – Will probably continue to be a douche.
- Jim’s Dad – Actually, this is one of the only characters who gets a legit happy ending. (Heyo!)
In the end, maybe part of my sadness comes from the fact that as I’ve grown older, my sensibilities as a moviegoer have changed dramatically, and I’m a little disappointed with my previous predilections; like it or not, American Pie is part of my history. Or perhaps I’m annoyed at Hollywood for pigeonholing a defunct cinematic formula into yet another unnecessary sequel. Either way, I was about to make a joke about pairing this Pie with a quart of Ben & Jerry’s because something something depression, but you get the idea.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have a good cry while The Fifth Element lulls me to sleep.