American Pie [DVD]
Screenplay : Adam Herz
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Jason Biggs (Jim), Chris Klein (Oz), Thomas Ian Nicholas (Kevin), Eddie Kaye Thomas (Finch), Seann W. Scott (Stifler), Alyson Hannigan (Michelle), Natasha Lyonne (Jessica), Tara Reid (Vicky), Mena Suvari (Heather), Shannon Elizabeth (Nadia), Eugene Levy (Jim's Dad), Jennifer Coolidge (Stifler's Mom)
With the resurgence in teen comedies in the late 1990s (Can't Hardly Wait, She's All That, Never Been Kissed), it was only a matter of time before someone broke from the pseudo-John Hughes mold and took the Porky's route by making an unabashedly R-rated, sex-obsessed teen comedy. Well, if anyone had been waiting, the wait ended with the arrival of American Pie, in which first-time writer Adam Herz and first-time director Paul Weitz (co-writer of Antz) pushed every conceivable boundary of taste and humor while also delivering a movie with a surprising amount of heart.
American Pie centers on four Michigan high school seniors who make a pact that they will lose their virginity by prom night. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) seems to have the best chance, mostly because he has a long-time girlfriend (Tara Reid) who is interested in moving forward in their relationship. Oz (Chris Klein), a somewhat dim-witted jock, decides to take the "sensitive male" route by joining the jazz choir and talking about his feelings. Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas, who has an astounding resemblance to Rowan Atkinson) is the oddball of the group, not just for his physical appearance, but because his tastes for the finer things in life set him apart (for instance, he refuses to use the school bathroom--"Have you seen the facilities they offer?" is his rationale).
The most prominent member of the group, Jim (Jason Biggs), is at the biggest disadvantage because he has been selected as the movie's token recipient of every imaginable teenage embarrassment, most of which, in true Porky's fashion, involves some kind of sexual humiliation. The movie sets the tone in the first scene, where Jim's parents catch him masturbating while watching a scrambled adult cable station. But, it doesn't end there. Jim also has to endure several excruciating father-son talks with his well-meaning, but utterly incompetent dad (Eugene Levy), who also catches him "experimenting" with an apple pie (one of his friends tells him that third base feels like warm apple pie, and he naturally takes it to the next level). He also has a misguided attempt at lovemaking with a sexy foreign exchange student (Shannon Elizabeth) broadcast over the Internet, and he gets stuck going to prom with a band geek (Alyson Hannigan) who tells endlessly boring stories about band camp ("That reminds me, this one time, when I was at band camp ...).
American Pie has no shame, nor should it. Adolescence has always been a confusing, frustrating period of life, and in today's climate of endless information and access via everything from MTV and Internet porn to the President's nationally broadcast infidelities, it ain't getting any easier. American Pie understands this, but at the same time, there's no Dawson's Creek-style existential dilemmas; the only angst here is about who's going to have sex when and where the next party is.
The majority of the vulgar humor in American Pie is derived from both an honest and an exaggerated presentation of the pitfalls that accompany any foray into first-time sexuality. (Some scenes are brutal, almost primal, in their truthfulness, while other scenes, such as the aforementioned escapade with the foreign exchange student, are ridiculously contrived boy-fantasies-turned-nightmares.)
However, there is also a decidedly sentimental streak in the screenplay that sometimes undercuts the vulgarity. This is never so evident as in the last part of the film that takes place at the after-prom party and features the four guys finally making good on their pact. The filmmakers want to have it both ways by being both bawdy and delicate in portraying the loss of virginity, so they split the four characters down the middle, with two having sweet, nostalgic encounters, and the other two having randy, comical experiences. It does make for an interesting dichotomy, showcasing both the tenderness and the inherent humor in sex.
Although it doesn't have much new to offer in terms of material, American Pie carries itself with energy and a complete lack of arrogance. The movie pays tribute to its predecessors, not only with the voyeuristic, slapstick tone of Porky's and the sex-as-discussion from Fast Times at Ridgemont High (both 1982), but also with a couple of musical homage's to some of the milestones of the teen genre, including The Graduate (1967) and The Breakfast Club (1985).
But, American Pie is definitely a '90s movie (and not just because it prominently features the Internet); the jokes in which it is willing to indulge far surpass what was done in even the raunchiest and dumbest teen comedies in the 1980s. There are ex-lax and vomit jokes, and, in true There's Something About Mary-style, that all-important male fluid makes an appearance in a glass of beer from which Stifler (Seann W. Scott), a loud-mouthed rich kid, takes a big swig. The joke would be just gross, but it functions nicely as a leveler, taking the wind out of the character's unearned swagger.
But, the main reason American Pie succeeds as both a raunchy comedy and an uninhibitedly frank look at burgeoning sexuality is because it looks at both sides. Yes, the four main characters are guys, but the girls get almost equal screen time, and they are allowed to feel as much sexual impetus as the males. The movie doesn't whitewash female adolescence by pretending that it's only guys who want to get laid, and this is best exhibited in a series of scene where Vicky talks to the more experienced Jessica (Natasha Lyonne, who was so good the previous year in Slums of Beverly Hills another comedy of teenage embarrassment).
No one is going to mistake American Pie for a great exploration of American youth. The Last Picture Show it is not. But, it does have a kind of frank, honest charm combined with well-calculated comedy that makes it funny and almost undeniably likable. None of the young performers are showstoppers, and none of them are likely to turn into major movie stars ala Tom Cruise in Risky Business (1983). But, that's what makes American Pie ring true in its best scenes--the teenagers actually look, act, talk, and walk like, well, teenagers. That is, they're clumsy, unsure, inexperienced, and utterly curious about everything. Imagine that.
|American Pie: Ultimate Edition Two-Disc DVD Set|
|The American Pie Ultimate Edition DVD is available in both the original R-rated theatrical version and in an unrated version that includes slightly different footage in a few key scenes.|
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 / 1.33:1|
|Audio|| Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround|
DTS 5.1 Surround
Dolby 2.0 Surround
|Languages||English (DD 5.1, DTS 5.1) |
French (DD 5.1)
|Supplements|| Audio commentary by director Paul Weitz, producer Chris Weitz, writer Adam Herz, and actors Jason Biggs, Eddie Kaye Thomas, and Sean William Scott|
Spotlight on Location 10-minute making-of featurette
Photograph montage with commentary by Chris and Paul Weitz
Movie poster gallery
Tonic "You Wanted More" music video
Tonic live performance
Original theatrical trailers for American Pie and American Pie 2
American Pie 2 sneak preview
Cast & Filmmaker filmographies
|The two-disc "Ultimate Edition" of American Pie includes an anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer on the first disc and a full-frame (1.33:1) transfer on the second disc. Both transfers are sharp and clear, with good detail and a lack of any artifacts. However, as it is the same transfer used for the earlier released "Collector's Edition" DVD, the image overall is noticeably dark. This is immediately apparent in the opening scenes, especially the sequences that take place indoors. It is not overly distracting once you get used to it, but it is certainly noticeable and seems aesthetically out of place in such a bright, light-hearted comedy.|
|Both discs are equipped with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 surround soundtracks. Both soundtracks are solid, although the surround elements are not used very often as the majority of the dialogue-driven film is firmly anchored in the center channel. The various party scenes and any sequence that involves music benefits from the multiple channels, though, and the soundtrack is overall very crisp and clear.|
| Most of the supplements included on Universal's initial "Collector's Edition" of American Pie are included here, as well as a few new editions. First up is the screen-specific audio commentary featuring director Paul Weitz, producer Chris Weitz, writer Adam Herz, and actors Jason Biggs, Eddie Kaye Thomas, and Sean William Scott. It's pretty much a crack-up throughout, with all the participants making jokes and, occasionally, giving a little insight into the production of the movie. It's a fun commentary to listen to, and it gives you the sense that everyone involved had a good time making the movie (no wonder they all agreed to be involved with the sequel). |
The 10-minute Spotlight on Location featurette is pretty standard publicity stuff, with interviews of cast and crew interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage. The seven-minute photo montage makes a nice new addition to the "Ultimate Edition," offering a few dozen publicity stills and behind-the-scenes photographs that are accompanied by excerpts from an interview with Paul and Chris Weitz on the soundtrack. Another interesting gallery includes dozens and dozens of movie poster concepts, some of which are really cool, and some of which are absolutely terrible (many of them feature the movie's original title, Great Falls).
Also new this time around are six minutes of deleted scenes, which are presented in nonanamorphic widescreen and were obviously taken from a video master. All of them are extensions of scenes already in the movie that were cut for various reasons, most often for pacing (they are discussed quite a bit in the audio commentary). The same two and a half minutes of outtakes previously available are also included here.
As with The Mummy Ultimate Edition DVD, this disc has been timed to coincide with the sequel, thus it contains both an original theatrical trailer for American Pie 2 as well as a five-minute sneak-peak featurette including cast interviews and a few interesting revelations about the plot (looks like more humiliation for Jim--big surprise).
The disc is rounded out with a Tonic music video "You Wanted More," a newly included 11 minutes of live performance footage of Tonic, production notes, music highlights, classic quotes, and cast and filmmaker filmographies. All in all it's a good set, but not particularly superior to the "Collector's Edition" disc.
Copyright © 1999, 2001 James Kendrick