It's hard to believe four years have gone by since the original American Pie came out. It came out in the summer of 1999, at the height of the teensploitation craze that Scream had kicked off in the early months of 1997; that was also the same summer that gave us the South Park movie, so R-rated gross-out and bad-taste jokes were also in vogue then.
Since then, the teensploitation fad has died out, and films that revel in body-fluid jokes and the like are not as popular as they once were. (It will be interesting to see how Scary Movie 3 does when it comes out later this year.) And so, even the American Pie movies are growing up -- sort of -- but since the newest film has to retain the vulgarity of the first film, otherwise fans of the franchise are bound to be disappointed, it ends up feeling kind of schizophrenic and half-hearted.
Consider. The first film was about four high-school seniors who make a pact to lose their virginities by prom night. Much carefree mayhem ensues. We can and should decry the sexual promiscuity that is rampant among teenagers, and the obsession they have with sheer, objectifying, hormonal lust over more inter-personal factors such as love, and the way the film depicts some of the characters achieving "success" at the last minute by having spur-of-the-moment sex with total strangers, etc., but at the very least, I think we can admit there is something CONSISTENT between this sort of comedy and the social setting of the first film.
In the third film, three of these boys are still around, but one of them (Jason Biggs) is getting married, and another one (Thomas Ian Nicholas) has a girlfriend who we never see, but apparently she has strict rules concerning what is appropriate for each of them to do when the other person is not around; the third character (Eddie Kaye Thomas), meanwhile, is not above flirting with strippers, but he spends most of the film trying to woo the first guy's sister-in-law-to-be. (Chris Klein, the one actor of the four who already had a viable career thanks to movies like Election and has since gone on to We Were Soldiers and the like, didn't come back for this film.) So the sheer raunch factor, the unattached lust of the first film, doesn't quite fit here.
Hence, the film devotes a LOT of time to Stifler (Seann William Scott), the arrogant sex maniac of the first two films who typically ends up imbibing some sort of bodily excretion or other. He used to be a fairly minor character, but this film is arguably more about him, and the possibility that he might become more of a genuine human being, than it is about the Biggs character and his upcoming wedding. Alas, Stifler's story falls back on too many cliches, like the scene where the girl he's been trying to impress happens to overhear him bragging about how he's gonna get laid and She Sees Him For Who He Really Is, etc. (Incidentally, the Biggs character's fiancee is the band-camp geek who "used" him on prom night in the first film -- she, too, used to be just a one-note joke, but now she has been elevated to full-fledged "character" status, too.)
I think it was Elvis Mitchell in the New York Times who said that this film's attempts to gross the audience out seem almost "quaint", and I would certainly agree with that. The attempts are also pretty contrived -- I mean, take the scene that y'all may have seen in the trailer, where the Biggs character shaves his pubic hair and then dumps it out the window, after which the wind promptly blows it into people's mouths and onto the wedding cake. Considering he shaved himself in a BATHROOM, one might think the guy's first instinct might be to flush the hair down the toilet, rather than to open a window where everyone could see him.
The thing that I have always, but always, liked about these films -- and about the recent wave of teensploitation films in general -- is the sympathy they have for the parents. (My favorite film of this genre in this regard was probably 10 Things I Hate About You.) Watching Eugene Levy as the Biggs character's dad, you never, ever doubt his love for his son or his desire to understand his son, even as he catches his son in embarrassing situations or offers the occasional bit of bad advice. My favorite moment in American Wedding comes when the bride-to-be has trouble writing her vows and she asks Levy for advice; she tells him something like, "Jim says you're always there for him when he needs help," and the camera cuts to Levy's face and we can see how touched he is to hear this, as he replies, "Jim said that?" It's a subtle moment, and you're pretty sure the bride-to-be didn't even notice the effect her words had on her father-in-law-to-be, and you know that Jim and his dad will probably never say anything quite that direct to each other, but it's PRECISELY the sort of moment that I go to the movies for.
Speaking of Levy, I find it intriguing that all three of these American Pie movies have featured cameos by Jennifer Coolidge, who plays Stifler's mom in these films and co-starred in the mockumentaries Best in Show and A Mighty Wind which Levy co-wrote with Christopher Guest. American Wedding makes the Christopher Guest connection even stronger, since Fred Willard shows up as the father of Jim's bride-to-be! (Apparently, the wedding preparations mark the first time that Jim has even MET his girlfriend's parents, even though they have gone out for THREE YEARS.) And on that folky, Mighty Wind kind of note, it's also odd to consider that American Wedding was directed by Jesse Dylan, son of Bob.
One last bit of useless trivia: When Stifler is asked to hold on to the wedding ring and he thinks he's lost it, as he fumbles around in his pocket, the girl he's trying to impress calls him "Frodo". Ah, yes, now Tolkien's creations have REALLY saturated the culture.
Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 11 April 2011 - 11:20 PM.