DID YOU READ

Shelf Life: “American Pie”

"American Pie" cast

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Although it’s essentially codified in the very existence of this column, there are many, many movies which mean something incredibly important to us at one point in our lives, and something entirely different later on. And with few exceptions, I’ve personally been able either to persevere in my affection through all logic and rationality of how good or bad youthful favorites are, or simply be lucky enough to have chosen films that as an adult I can argue for and justify. But on the eve of the release for American Reunion, it not only seemed appropriate to revisit the original “American Pie,” it personally seemed necessary.

I first saw “American Pie” when I was about 24 years old and I immediately loved it. I was always a fan of teen comedies, and that film seemed to operate in a space that connected it to my ‘80s favorites. But until recently, it had probably been seven or eight years – or more — since I’d last seen the original film, and my experiences with the sequels, in particular “American Wedding,” left me unenamored with the prospect of revisiting them again. But 13 years later, does “American Pie” still hold up?


The Facts

Released on July 9, 1999, “American Pie” was a massive upon its release, bringing in more than $235 million during its theatrical run. Although that number is impressive by almost any standard, the fact that it cost only $11 million to make made its revenues even more staggering. Meanwhile, it received mixed reviews from critics, and currently enjoys only a 60 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.


What Still Works

It’s easy to look at the series as a whole and see only the raunchy hijinks, but the core of the films – or at least the first film – was in creating an ensemble of characters that audiences actually liked, if not fully cared about. Although the four guys at the center of the story conspire to dupe women into having sex with them by the end of the school year, they quickly realize that their tactics are basically ineffectual, if not disastrous, and eventually learn something about themselves through the process of, in the crudest possible terms, getting laid.

Moreover, the film has a uniquely attuned sense of morality about its male and female characters, and while it certainly indulges in prurient fun, such as the Nadia set piece in Jim’s room, it also doles out punishments or comeuppances that are equivalent to their transgressions. The film definitely comes from a young male’s perspective, but it’s not purely exploitative or misogynistic towards women.

In terms of the cast, the filmmakers ideally cast almost all of the roles, but what sort of makes the core characters work are the ones that surround them – starting with Stifler. Seann William Scott’s performance as Stifler is a thing of beauty: he’s the kind of guy that you hate if he can do anything to affect your life, but you absolutely love if you can watch him impact the lives of others. There’s a remarkable bravado to the performance – and the character – that Scott really nails, and he steals a lot of scenes in which he’s meant to be sort of background. But as Oz, Chris Klein is an effective and really delicate counterbalance to Stifler’s horny jock, because it’s clear he’s not like that, but it takes the attention and empowerment that Heather bestows upon him simply through their chemistry, which isn’t merely well-constructed but well-performed.

But ultimately, what “American Pie” gets right that few other teen comedies do is that there’s emotional substance to the journey, and it gives their ambitions deeper meaning, silly as it may seem to suggest. The moral of the film isn’t that “getting laid before the end of high school is awesome,” but that a person’s first time can be any number of different things – a sweet expression of two people finding common ground (Oz and Heather), the realization of a relationship that was meaningful, but must come to an end (Kevin and Vicky), a meaningless but oddly overwhelming fling with a person you have no real feelings for (Jim and Michelle), or a comical wish-fulfillment romp that embodies every ridiculous fantasy you ever imagined (Finch and Stifler’s mom). While that’s admittedly not a deeply profound message, it’s one that gives much more consideration to the core elements of teen sex comedy than most of the ones before it, and almost all of them which came after.


What Doesn’t Work

The film is sort of inescapably dated, so the alt-rock soundtrack is mostly corny with occasional crappiness, and the technology and sort of pop-cultural world in which these characters live is far less savvy or sophisticated than it might be for kids now. That’s not necessarily a shortcoming, but it’s an element of the film that is un-ignorable. Meanwhile, there are a few lines here and there that land with a thud – just from a narrative perspective – but thankfully the film manages to mine humor out of some of the worst howlers (“suck me, beautiful”), and overall it seems faithful and accurate to the behavior and speech of teenagers desperate to be older than they really are. (I mean, really, third base feels like “warm apple pie?”)


The Verdict

“American Pie” holds up not just as a good example of a teen sex comedy, but as a genuinely good film, with solid performances, likeable characters, and a story that audiences can easily care about. Directors Chris and Paul Weitz, who went on to make films like “Down to Earth” and “About a Boy” before going their separate ways, were filmmakers with a real vision for the material – such as it can have one – and they do an excellent job bringing it to life with real emotion and entertainment value that isn’t purely based on empty-headed titillation. Overall, “American Pie” is most remarkable because although it feels so much like a part of its time, it has a timelessness that ranks it among John Hughes’ work and other luminaries of the genre, because it taps into essential feelings that teenagers have, observes them with sympathy and humor, and gives them something to think about even as it delivers what’s expected.

Leave your own memories of “American Pie” in the comments below.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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