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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.