Cinephiles go googly-eyed when you talk about certain years. Some swoon over 1939: The Wizard Of Oz, Gone With The Wind, Stagecoach... Others revere 1960, the year of French New Wave-r Breathless and thriller Psycho. Another banner year was 1999, when Boys Don’t Cry, Being John Malkovich and Magnolia seemed to herald the return of a left-of-mainstream spirit.
It was also the year in which horny teens misused baked goods, guzzled jizz, spunked in their boxers, dropped payloads of crap and popularised an acronym for hot mums. OK, so American Pie wasn’t the New-New Hollywood in action. But it made an impact, spreading its seed across two cash-in sequels and endless direct-to-disc offshoots that didn’t do quite so much cashing-in.
After that over-extended run, it’s easy to forget how fresh writer Adam Herz’s offspring once was. It arrived at a time when the teen movie’s juice was flowing anew, and pulled a smart stunt shared by subsequent cringe-coms: balancing lewdery with likeable characters in the shape of its dork-ish lead genius Eugene Levy) who, in his own words, brings “new meaning to the word cool”.
Take it like a flan
Scream had revitalised the teen-slasher market. On the comedy front, Clueless, Election and 10 Things I Hate About Youhelped make teenagers ripe for smart yucks and box-office bucks again. Piecapitalised on that curve and added fucks, slicing through the slashing, talking and literary reimagining to get to the loins of the matter: the kids wanted to get laid.
Nothing new about that, of course. Porky’smisbehaved similarly in 1982, coining it in for a tale of teens obsessed with their todgers. Piesticks to its blueprint, opening with Jason Biggs’s Jim caught pud-pulling by his parents before following an ensemble of teen boys as they try to shed their innocence pre-prom.
The set-pieces continue the xerox, notably when Jim broadcasts Shannon Elizabeth’s Nadia stripping on the web – a virtual update of the peep-shower scenes from Porky’s. Other set-pieces combine the Farrellys’ body-horror template with Airplane!’s episodic style, albeit with less vim. Jim shags a pie; Seann William Scott’s pottymouthed Stifler drinks spunk-spiked beer; faux-bon viveur Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) shits gallons.
The laughs land on deadline, perhaps routinely under Paul Weitz’s sketchy direction. But it distinguishes itself by lacing feel-icky flavours with feelgood juice. Sensitive jock Oz (Chris Klein) and Finch are banal but it makes them endearingly everyday, rendering the potentially crass climax sweet and rich, especially when they realise that sex comes with self-examination.
Like Jim with mum’s dessert, you can pick holes in Pie. The humiliation of the pant-wetting Sherman (Chris Owen) belongs in a crueller comedy, the piecemeal plotting is better suited to sitcom than film and its faux-feminism feels ersatz when it’s the dudes who monopolise the climax, sharing milkshakes and shag stories while the women are neglected.
But at least the women take sexual control and grab good giggles, notably Alyson Hannigan as flute-loving nympho-geek Michelle. The sequel, inevitable after Pie’s gross of $150m-plus on an $11m budget, forgets that lesson. This time, the gang continue their pursuits in a beach house after a sex-starved year in college, a set-up that’s more repeat than sequel.
And it’s a reheat with the women underwritten, notably Mena Suvari who literally phones in her part from France. The ingredients are all ill-measured. The humiliations of Jim (a masturbatory episode involving superglue) and Stifler (guzzling a golden shower) earn chuckles, as does Michelle’s dirty side (“I get nasty when I’m horny”).
But an excess of Stifler stresses sour at a cost to sweetness, a mistake exacerbated by a scene involving two thought-to-be lesbians and Jim’s bum note “retard trombone player” routine. American Wedding set a few bells ringing again. Stifler is again central, sometimes overbearingly so as he weasels his way into Jim’s wedding to Michelle and her sister Cadence’s (January Jones) affections.
But Scott rises to the task – his expression as he mimes sucking on Cadence’s nipples is not something you’ll forget in a hurry. And his shit-eating grin does what it’s made for too, in a set-piece involving a wedding ring and dog turd. Hannigan doesn’t bank enough screen time, but she co-steals the film during a boning-themed chat with Levy, killing again as Jim’s optimistic old man.
But with the innocence of Pie lost en route to the altar, it’s fortunate the series didn’t continue to outstay its big-screen welcome, especially given the low standards of the disc-based spin-offs. Its influence was felt, however: Superbad and Role Models bettered the knob gags and charm formula, but owed debts to Pie for getting the gross-but-loveable genre cooking.
It may have been a cheap fling from a year of better films, but with that lasting influence to thank it for, there’s surely enough goodwill to justify this year’s American Pie: Reunion. That’s if there’s anything left for Stifler to ingest...