By Michael Atkinson
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Ernest Hardy
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Calum Marsh
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chris Packham
It's about time we had a talk. Yeah, you know, that talk. The one about how uncomfortable and strange it is to be a young human male, how raging and unforgiving the hormones, how fragile the ego, how mysterious the female form. You see, well, how do I say this? When a man and a woman love a movie very much, and it's a movie about all these things, and it's funny as all hell, it's probably American Pie.
From the opening moments, when the endearing teen-schlemiel Jim (Jason Biggs) is caught by his parents masturbating into a tube sock and watching scrambled porn on cable, the film single-mindedly seeks to expose, detail, and humiliate all that is holy to a teenage boy, particularly his obsession with S-E-X. And as Jim, still wearing the sock, strikes up an impromptu strategic alliance with his father (Eugene Levy), the scene, and nearly every one that follows, unravels with high-calorie comedic precision. First-time director Paul Weitz leaves the male anatomy flapping in the wind -- with no pants, no boxers, no hair or protective covering, dipped in alcohol and poked through with toothpicks. It's painful, it's real, and it's probably the funniest thing you'll see this year.
Yes, it's a high-school movie. It's raunchy and rude and had to be edited four times to get an R rating instead of an NC-17. Yes, the core plot device is a group of buddies intent on gettin' some. But the script, by virgin scribe Adam Herz, delves so deep into the neuroses of men at a tender age that watching it becomes as uncomfortable as going through "the first time" all over again. The film takes on the teenage boy's tunnel-vision quest for nookie and, instead of glorifying the pursuit, exposes it for what it is: a perfectly natural, hormonal farce. And at a time in movie history when sex-and-toilet humor is in danger of becoming totally meaningless, American Pie comes along and refreshes the bowl, using anatomical and scatological truths to tear down the myth of the male sex drive and all the stupid things it'll make a guy do.
The plot takes off with a moment of beer-commercial bravado when four frustrated friends at a Michigan high school, terrified of graduating as virgins, make a pact to "lose it" by prom. "We will get laid," one of them declares, standing on a chair, yelling. They each follow different paths, and each is slowly and painfully castrated before our eyes. Beefy lacrosse player Oz (the very likable and Keanu-esque Chris Klein, last seen in Election) explores his sensitive side, "asking girls questions and listening to what they have to say and shit." The scrawny mastermind Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) ingeniously plants "a reputation" for himself. The guy-with-a-steady-girlfriend (Thomas Ian Nicholas) receives "the bible," a massive annotated book on sexual technique passed down to one lucky member of each high-school class. And Jim, well, Jim tries really hard and succeeds only in cracking us up. But as the boys approach the Holy Grail, each one sacrifices his dignity, his machismo, his shame. There's just enough girl-supplied wisdom and encouragement to keep them going, and to put the constant boy-nonsense in a healthy emotional perspective.
Be warned, though: American Pie contains pants-wetting, diarrhea, vomiting, masturbation (male and female), the consumption of a beer with semen in it, discussion of shaved pubic areas, exposed and entirely tan female breasts, a kid screwing another kid's mom, underage drinking, and, yes, regular ol' missionary-style sex. And yet it's no worse than actually being a teenage boy and thinking about these things constantly. It's perfectly natural when Jim eyes an apple pie after hearing that the warm dessert is what "it" feels like. What's shocking and above-the-call-of-duty is what he does to it after the initial glance. But no bodily fluid is spilled in vain here, and it all accumulates as a greasy film over everything: the theme, the plot, the point -- which is, it sucks to be a guy. There has never been a film about teenage sex, not Fast Times at Ridgemont High, not Porky's, not Risky Business, that gets so much so right.
If the movie has a weakness, it's the women. A few stand in as one-joke characters (although the "band camp" girl really pays off), and others walk through the film like fantasies taken from Penthouse Forum, especially the foreign exchange student Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth), who winds up conveniently undressing in Jim's room. (This is excusable, actually, only because it leads to a complex, masterful sequence rivaling Ben Stiller's caught-in-the-zipper Mary scene.)
The comparisons to There's Something About Mary, of course, are inevitable: Both explore the deep discomfort of manhood in vulgar, base, and brutally honest terms and with stellar results. Both are the funniest films of their year, hands down. Both border on NC-17, yet good, wholesome Americans will tell everybody they know to go see them.
American Pie, however, is not from the new school of '90s teen comedies, the glossy, marketable genre loaded with insta-pop references and kids from Dawson's Creek. The new faces here, especially Biggs and Klein, stand out as such honest visions of boyhood that you don't even miss the stereotypes most high-school movies use to fill the background. It's closer in tone and significance to The Graduate than She's All That and even sacrifices loads of box-office money with its R rating. Teens should be able to handle it, though, but they might not get it. There's a certain nostalgic distance in the script, an out-of-body self-awareness about how funny and painful it is to have your dad walk you through an issue of Shaved magazine, a pervasive dead-on intelligence that helps American Pie transcend the teen-and-raunch fever of the late '90s and become, if there can even be such a thing, a teen sexploitation classic.
Directed by Paul Weitz. Screenplay by Adam Herz. Starring Jason Biggs, Jennifer Coolidge, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Eugene Levy, Natasha Lyonne, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Chris Owen, Tara Reid, Seann W. Scott, Mena Suvari, and Eddie Kaye Thomas.
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