Four teenage boys try to lose their virginity before Prom night and endure plenty of humilation along the way.
American Pie arrives on these shores with something of a misguided rep. There’s Something About Mary with acne. A Porky’s for the 90s. But while the film owes much to the spirit of early 80s lame brained, low budgeted yoof fare, there’s something else at work here: chiefly, in between the jizz jokes and pastry intercourse, American Pie boasts an unremitting freshness and beguiling sweetness that easily mark it as the most enjoyable teen flick of the year.
Part of the Pie’s winning formula is that it is built on a premise totally devoid of spin. Four teenage lads make a pact to jettison their virginity - ‘Valid consensual sex. No prostitutes’ - by prom night. That’s it. No Shakespearean backbone or Dawson-esque irony, just an eternal adolescent dilemma pared down to enticing purity and played out with a keen comedic eye for teen torments; Jim (Biggs) giggles in front of nearly every girl he fancies; Kevin (Nicholas) is ‘going steady’ yet seeks his brother’s handwritten sexual bible in order to go all the way; macho lacrosse player Oz (Klein) joins the choir to get close to Heather (Mena Suvari) and learn to play ‘the sensitive angle’; and, finally, the bow tie sporting Finch (Thomas) tries to maintain his legendary prowess all the while harbouring a dark defect. Refreshingly these kids are not John Hughes stereotypes - nerds, jocks, brains etc. - but recognisably average kids merely anxious for action.
En route to potential sexual fulfilment, sibling directors Chris and Paul Weitz serve up a litany of embarrassing rites of passage scenarios with pace and surefootedness. Hats off to Biggs who embraces Jim’s ever decreasing predicaments - cleaning his pipe as his dad walks in, screwing an apple pie as his dad walks in and, best of all, hilariously stripping in front of a foreign exchange student (Shannon Elizabeth) as the school tunes in on the internet - with a real skill for squirm-inducing shtick.
Although the film does indulge in calculated grossness - a spunk in beer glass gambit, an incredibly unfunny episode involving literal toilet humour - there is, more often than not, a poignancy to the schlock: even funnier than the infamous pie pokage is the aftermath, when Jim and his father hold a post mortem over the shagged out pastry, deliberating over how to tell mom. (It should be stressed that Eugene Levy’s 50s style repressed dad is a sparely used creation of comic genius).
Moreover, one of the unexpected surprises of American Pie is its gallery of well written gals; the stand outs being Natasha Lyonne’s gossipy sage Jessica and Alysson Hannigan as band camp obsessed dweeb Michelle who, with a single killer line of dialogue (and we’re not telling), manages to steal the entire movie. Keeping the testosterone in check, the film does not deny its chicks a personality or libido and emerges all the more likeable for it.
Where American Pie really pays off, however, is in its conclusion. Of course, the randy little upstarts have lessons to learn about lust vs. love but it is all done with a gossamer touch, big laughs - look out for The Graduate rip off - and a surprising emotional punch, the quartet having crept into your affections without you really knowing. You may go in for the sicko laughs but you’ll exit with a big goofy grin and warmed cockles. The best of both worlds.
American Pie showed em how it was done. How you could make a teenage, gross-out comedy with a heart.