American Pie (1999)

(On DVD, May 2016) Everyone has their list of movies that other people can’t believe they haven’t seen (“What, you haven’t seen Star Wars?!?”) and American Pie was high on mine. For years, I thought I didn’t need to see the film because I felt as if I had seen it all already: Hadn’t I heard enough pop-culture references, suffered through endless imitators? But there’s no substitute for the actual experience of watching the film itself, especially given how it still has a charm that has eluded many of its copycats. It remains one of the definitive teenage sex comedies of the past few decades, focusing on the pursuit of sex as a rite of passage, and the conclusion that it’s not that important compared to love. Despite then-cutting-edge Internet jokes (early streaming humour!), it has aged surprisingly well, largely because it’s so heartfelt. The structure is squarely built on embarrassment set pieces, with comic sequences strung one after another within a solid but unspectacular plot. I am far away from the target audience for this film now, but it’s refreshingly free of smirking in how it treats its characters. Despite being male-centric, American Pie isn’t cruel to its female characters—in fact, the males usually take up the brunt of the humiliation, while the women are too smart to embarrass themselves. Standout performances include Sean William Scott, Natasha Lyonne, Eugene Levy and Jason Biggs as the much-humiliated protagonist. Surprisingly enough, many of the pop-culture references about the film actually concern bits that took bigger importance in the sequels: I’m particularly thinking about Stifler’s character and his mom, not to mention Alyson Hannigan’s quasi-cameo considering her role in latter movies. (The MILF thing is the MILF thing, though, even though I was surprised to be reminded that John Cho is the one who made it mainstream.) Still, even more than fifteen years later, American Pie holds up relatively well … as long as you can stand the sex = humiliation comedy equation.

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