When the first American Pie came out 13 years ago, I wasn’t old enough to go to R-rated movies without my parents. So my father had to come along with me. Now, what you’ll have to understand is that my dad is probably one of the three most conservative people I know. He didn’t really want to see the movie or think that it was appropriate, but my brother and I were visiting him in California and he was eager to spend time with us. In the darkness of the theater a miracle happened. Despite all his griping about the film’s content on the way in, he laughed all the way through. He couldn’t help himself, even though he denied laughing after the movie let out. The original American Pie was full of moments that were as embarrassing as they were funny, and could work on even the most cynical filmgoers. Who could forget Jason Biggs sticking his penis in a pie? Or that stupid band camp line? Or the fact that, for all the dick jokes, the film had a ton of heart? American Pie was a staple of my generation, for better or worse.
Now after two theatrical sequels and a slew of direct-to-DVD entries (did anyone actually bother with those?), the franchise returns to the theaters with American Reunion. The entire cast of the original is back, even characters who only had minimal parts. Was it worth the wait for fans? Was it shamelessly funny or just shameful?
The story involves the original four characters, Jim, Oz, Kevin, and Finch, coming back to their hometown for their class of 1999 high school reunion. Though they tried avoiding him, they run into Stifler at the local bar. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for viewers, Stifler hasn’t changed one bit. He’s stayed in the same town, trying to recapture his past glories, and now, with his friends back, the embarrassing, over-the-top antics commence. The four leads try to balance issues in their personal lives with trying to survive the weekend. The results are mostly funny.
The best scenes are ones that could almost work as individual skits. One scene in particular, where Jim and his friends have to get the drunken, naked girl next door back home without Jim’s wife or her parents noticing is a great example of this. The obstacles keep getting thrown in their way, each one more ridiculous than the last, until there is finally a resolution.
What worked with the previous films, particularly the first and second, was that buried inside all the dick jokes, embarrassing sexual innuendos, and physical humor was a whole lot of heart. These films had something to say about growing up and relationships. While they weren’t my personal high school or college experience, I knew folks who had shared something pretty close to it. The core stories, when you strip away all the silliness, were believable and touching. American Reunion also aims for this, and it works most of the time. Jim and Michelle’s struggle as they try to breathe life back into their marriage after having a child, the overall relationship between the five leads, and Kevin’s shock at seeing Vicki again contain spikes of realism and feeling. They perfectly embody chapters of the human experience. A film like The Hangover can’t boast this, because when the jokes are removed there’s nothing else there.
Overall, the film is a nostalgic journey for those that grew up with the first few films, and it’s full of funny moments. There were some things that didn’t work. While it was impressive that they got every single character to come back, even if only for cameos, there were some that I didn’t even remember from the earlier films. Some of the cameos seemed forced, as if the only goal of having certain characters show up was to, well, have them show up. Also, if someone isn’t a fan of the type of humor contained in the first few films, then there won’t be a whole lot to take away from this one. It was a film made for the fans. Those that enjoyed the first one are sure to gain something from sitting through it, even if all they gain is a fun night out at the movies. Sometimes that’s all you can ask for.
American Reunion opens in Philly-area theaters today.