Directed by Paul Weitz
Review by Matt Heffernan
Don't expect any Don McLean music in American Pie, but there is an appropriate scene involving a Simon and Garfunkel tune. The Graduate was about a young man exploring sexuality at the beginning of the sexual revolution. Now at the end of the millenium, we have the products of this era going throught the same discovery. Free love doesn't exist anymore, now that AIDS is out there, but that won't stop kids from trying to get laid before they graduate from high school.
And that, essentially, is what this film is about. Frustrated with their status as virgins, four high school boys make a pact to have sex before or on prom night, which is three weeks away. Jim (Jason Biggs) is infatuated with a Czech exchange student, Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth), who he might have a chance with during a study session at his house. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) has been going out with Vicki (Tara Reid), and is very close to getting her in bed, but he has trouble expressing his feelings. Oz (Chris Klein) is a lacrosse jock who tries joining the jazz choir to meet some new girls who don't know his reputation as a pathetic, self-named Casanova. Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is a pretentious snob who drinks mochaccinos and tries to spread a false reputation about his sexual prowess.
The four guys go through various plots to find a girl and keep her, some of which are more successful than others. The point of view switches between the different threads surprisingly well. The film doesn't focus on one particular guy for too long. But sometimes it gets a little heavy-handed when the tone switches from being a light-hearted sex comedy to melodrama.
In many ways, this dynamic is very reminiscent of teen sex comedies of the 1980's, by such "legendary" directors as John Hughes and Bob Clark. This style of filmmaking seems to be making a comeback, and American Pie is probably the best example so far. Of course, that's not saying much considering the normal quality of the work in this genre.
Two performances really put this film ahead of the pack. Eugene Levy, from SCTV, play's Jim's understanding, if a little too involved, father. After catching Jim watching a scrambled porn channel on TV, he brings him a stack of "adult" magazines so that he can "study the female form." Levy is always a pleasure to watch, and brings a sophistication to the comedy. Also adding greatly to the cast is Natasha Lyonne, who has the best role in the film: Jessica, the teenage sage of sexual wisdom. She was very good in The Slums of Beverly Hills and here brings the same energy to a key supporting role.
There are a lot of good laughs in the picture, even one that is similar to the "hair gel" incident in There's Something About Mary, but it just doesn't work when it tries to be a serious, coming-of-age story.
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American Pie (1999)
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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan