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American Pie

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: American Pie

Starring: Jason Biggs, Tara Reid
Director: Paul Weitz
Rated: R
RunTime: 95 Minutes
Release Date: July 1999
Genre: Comedy

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

If director Paul Weitz truly has his finger on the pulse of American teens and collegians, box offices around the country will not soon be saying bye bye this "American Pie." A raunchy and sometimes sweet tale marrying George Lucas's 1973 classic "American Graffiti" to Bob Clark's take on a lusty bunch of South Florida high- schoolers, "Porky's," Weitz's comedy deals with a group of senior boys determined to shed their virginity before graduation day. With Adam Herz's script pulling out sit- comish stops and getting an overdrive boost from slick editing that takes us quickly from one chaste high-school senior to the others, "American Pie" is a fun film for the summer that pushes the "There's Something About Mary" envelope. Yet it easily avoids the dreaded NC-17 by keeping private parts off-limits to the audience throughout its just-right 95 minutes of tenure.

If Trey Parker's hilarious "South Park," which opened just days earlier, forms an accurate, if heightened caricature of how 12-year-olds actually talk when parents are not around, Paul Weitz's "American Pie" does likewise for the 18-year-old set whose obsessive conversations give new meaning to the concept "coming of age." The sexual revolution either has never filtered down to middle-class high schools in America or has already gone through a Thermidorian reaction, because the particular fellas whose hopes and dreams are conceived by scripter Adam Herz are all NATO--no action, talk only. Why is all their verbal promiscuity followed up by virtually nothing involving the southern regions of their torsos? As Dr. Freud might say, these dudes are in conflict. On the surface, they all want it. Deep down, they're scared out of their minds of women. Some of these clean-cut juveniles are darn good looking with good futures ahead of them. Each time they get close to their goal of polluting themselves, they self-destruct by bragging openly and thereby showing their fear of and hostility toward the alluring females. What they really want is not fulfillment with the opposite sex but stature with their own.

Parents should not be alarmed if their teenagers are more interested in sex than in Shakespeare. Hormones are vigorous, perhaps more energetic in people their age than they will be at any other time in their lives. One understanding, if dippy, individual who grasps this is Jim's Dad (Eugene Levy), a well-meaning fellow with eyebrows that rival John L. Lewis's and a confident tone belied only by an occasional hesitation in his voice. When he catches his boy (Jason Biggs) masturbating in the bedroom to a porn tape, he sizes up the situation, reassuring Jim's mom about the TV program: "it's only bad reception." Jim's pop stands in for the kind of dad that every kid would love to have for his own while being simultaneously embarrassed by him. Having no anxieties about his young one's introduction to the lives of birds and bees, he enthusiastically plunges magazines of varying degrees of pornography into his kid's hands, explaining each centerfold as might your favorite biology teacher.

"American Pie" highlights an ensemble cast that play off one another so well that you'd swear that they'd spent their four years of secondary school in the same classes. They're fond of one another but like all adolescents they are given to ribbing and jiving because each is so temperamentally different. While the onanistic Jim (Biggs) metaphorically settles for playing squash instead of tennis, his athletic pal Oz (Chris Klein) is forever getting caught by the ladies in boasting falsely of his conquests. Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), on the other hand, comes across as a fan of Oscar Wilde, running home when nature calls because he will not use the slovenly seats that his school's bathrooms provide; Stifler (Sean William Scott) is a boor who regularly opens his lavish home for parties; Sherman (Chris Owen) is the classic geek whose major sexual activity consists of wetting his pants while disconcerted; and Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is under pressure from his girl friend Vicky (Tara Reid) to confess his love.

As in so many "Porky's" type films, the strong parts all go to the males, while women like Vicky and Oz's new love interest Heather (Mena Suvari) largely react to the male advances and set the rules of the games. Only Jessica (Natasha Lyonne), a liberated Dear Abby type who advises both male and female classmates about getting it on, and Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth), a promiscuous foreign exchange student, could be considered assertive, independent and confident enough to make their own advances and treat sexuality as good, healthy fun. Indeed the best quote in the movie comes from Jessica who, when told by her virginal pal Vicky that she wants the right time and the right place for her first sexual encounter, responds sharply, "It's not a space shuttle launch: it's sex!"

While little in "American Pie" could be called original, the film breaks ground by the staggering number of gross-out situations and objects. The include masturbation with a sock; sexual congress with a freshly-baked apple pie; a suspicious liquid found in a glass of beer that leads a hapless drinker to an extended session of regurgitation; a rash of ribald rhetoric that everyone in the audience has heard before; and just one hard-to-take setting in the school women's room to which the finicky Finch has repaired following his consumption of a drink doctored with a laxative.

Like the usual high-school movies, this one culminates in a prom, but this time no queen is chosen. Instead a band of fellows and gals reach the climax of their lives and undergo the bittersweet realization that not wedding bells, but college, will be breaking up that old gang of theirs. "American Pie" has moments of genuine romance but while it's not "An Ideal Husband," neither is the film an anarchic "Animal House." Weitz and Herz have fun with their young ensemble but both scripter and director convey a sincere interest in the lives and concerns of these young people. Any parents who think that their own adolescents are not like these pubescent yet inexperienced youngsters just haven't been listening.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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