Sometimes I wonder if the American Pie movies are the best film series of my generation. And then I wonder what that says about the movies I grew up with vs. those of a generation earlier, with its Indiana Joneses and Back to the Futures and Die Hards, or the generation before that, with its Rockys and Star Wars.
I’m of course willfully ignoring the litany of comic book movies that are quickly becoming the defining genre (and series) of this era, but those don’t feel like mine, like ours, in quite the same way. Batman and Spider-Man have been around for awhile, after all.
The American Pie movies, for better or worse, are definitely mine, definitely ours. And, with almost $1 billion banked at the box office over four feature-length films, they are definitely one of the biggest film series of the last two decades. That leaves us with the central question I hinted at in the opening paragraph — just what are we to make of the legacy of American Pie, especially with the latest installment, American Reunion, feeling like it might be the final one, at least with regard to the original characters?
Reunion picks up 13 years after the original and nine years after American Wedding, the last film that wasn’t straight to DVD and featured Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, Alyson Hannigan and the other principal stars of American Pie. It finds Jim (Biggs), Oz (Chris Klein), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Stifler (Scott) and Michelle (Hannigan) abruptly staring down the barrel at middle age while still hanging on to bits and pieces of their adolescence and young adulthood.
Jim and Michelle have a child together but find their sex life sputtering. Oz has made it big in Hollywood but career success doesn’t seem to have brought him personal fulfillment. Finch is playing the part of enigmatic world traveler/dillettante/elitist fraud to caricaturesque proportions. Kevin, happily married, still carries a torch for Vicky (Tara Reid). And Stifler, the most emotionally stunted of all of them, is floating along as an office temp with an unhealthy attachment to the good old days at East Great Falls High School.
With slightly predictable, utterly contrived and not-still-so-shocking aplomb, American Reunion brings them all back together (quite clumsily) for their 13-year reunion and works out all these issues. Don’t worry, fans of the original. There’s plenty of bathroom humor, Stifler crassness and barely believable sexual hijinks along the way. The gags feel familiar, but not too much so. I don’t know, maybe it’s just been enough time — nine years feels like eons when it comes to a sequel — and what the East Great Falls High crew did to wear out their welcome back around the time American Wedding was released has long since worn off.
I suspect, though, that there’s something more to it than that.
For starters, American Wedding, and in many ways American Pie 2, are lousy movies that simply don’t stack up to the original. American Reunion is better than both, and stands up on its own, not just as a nostalgia piece (even if it is recycling many of the same jokes).
More to the point, though, is the remarkable ability of the American Pie movies — even when they aren’t particularly good — to tap into the very specific needs, wants and fears of young, middle-class suburbanites, among whom I must be counted. I was a sophomore in high school when the first American Pie came out, and so the laser-like focus on sex, and the awkward pursuit of it by novices resonated loudly. As I took in American Reunion, I found myself far closer to 30 than 20, feeling my age and suddenly finding myself concerned with 401Ks, real estate, building a family and the like. I won’t say that Reunion examined any of those themes deeply, that it somehow transcended the teen sex comedy genre out of which it was borne, but they were reflected all the same, still a comic mirror as I move through a wildly different phase of my life than the one I was in when I first saw American Pie.
I guess what I’m saying is that, without assigning more gravitas to these movies than they deserve (or truthfully any at all), I’ve grown up with the American Pie films, and they’ve seemed to do an OK job of keeping up with me in turn. American Reunion is enjoyable in that way and also in the laugh-out-loud, juvenile humor kind of way that its predecessors embraced end embodied. Oddly enough, I could have done without much of the nostalgia in Reunion; did we really need to find out what Jessica (Natasha Lyonne) and The Sherminator (Chris Owen) were up to? I think not. That hardly spoiled things, though. I hope this is it for the series, mostly because I can’t see where it could possibly go from here, but then I said that after the first two sequels too.
Screening Room Rating: 7 out of 10