American Pie Box Set: The Complete Pie
June 4, 2003
Paul Weitz, Chris Weitz, James B. Rogers,
Starring: Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Tara Reid, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Seann William Scott, Mena Suvari, Eugene Levy, Natasha Lyonne, Jennifer Coolidge, Chris Owen, Clyde Kusatsu, Lawrence Pressman,
Get yourself in the school dinner queue for a double helping of pie as American Pie 1 and 2 are released in a double disc set. But is this a veritable feast of a pie or just some stale leftovers from a long since devoured meal?
American Pie follows in a long line of High School coming of age films that include Porky’s, Road Trip, Animal House, Varsity Blues, Say It Isn’t So (also starring Chris Klein) and basically too many more to mention. This style of film has genuinely become its own genre in America, and much like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood in the Westerns, it has its own stalwart actors. Western actors however can tell the same story for much of their career, the teen coming of age actor has between five and ten years in him before his unfortunate typecasting finishes his avenues of work.
The cast of characters in American Pie comprises the usual ensemble of caricatures found in the ‘coming of age movie’. There is Stifler, the Jock, Chris – the Jock with a sensitive side, Jessica – the tart with a heart, Nadia – the European temptress and Jim – the geek, plus a host of other ‘off the shelf’ characters. The young actors involved all give amiable performances that are charming enough, yet fail to brake out of any kind of High School stereotypes due to their pigeon holing.
The fact that Sean William Scott plays the same character in Road Trip doesn’t help his cause as an actor either, typecasting yourself in the role of an anarchic youth won’t prolong your acting career. It’s happened to other actors before, look at Michael Biehn, eternally typecast as a marine soldier – Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, The Rock, Navy Seals. At least with Biehn he can play a marine well into his fifties, Scott can only play an anarchic youth for a few years.
Alyson Hannigan should also take note, playing a nerdy high school chick in American Pie, much the same as her nerdy high school chick in the first season of Buffy will end her promising acting career very quickly. She even said in an interview that after American Pie she was offered a series of scripts playing much the same character as Michelle. If only she’d thought of that when she was offered American Pie in the first place. If she isn’t careful she’ll end up in her forties and still playing nerdy nervous parts, much like Goldie Hawn and Daryl Hannah. There isn’t much call for a kooky fifty year old girls, sorry.
Hannigan’s character Michelle is basically a one dimensional joke. Her season one Buffy routine takes her sleepwalking through the film without breaking sweat, resulting in a juxtaposed final punch-line. No attempt is made by the director to suggest that she anything other than Willow, with the final joke seemingly tacked on. She doesn’t even have enough screen time to suggest that she could have developed further, even if allowed to.
If there is to be a character revelation in a film, such as Usual Suspects’ Keyser Soze, or LA Confidential’s Captain Dudley Smith then there has to be some suggestion towards it along the way. After all, the character isn’t changing during this revelatory moment, they’re merely revealing their true identity. An intelligent film will present a character doing something that, while not breaking the characterisation that is laid out for them, still raises questions as to their motives. With the benefit of hind sight the viewer can look back on the film and realise exactly why something happened.
Michelle was just a one dimensional character that was abandoned in favour of a joke at the end of the film.
It’s unfair though to compare American Pie to a decent film, it has different qualities and a different audience.
American Pie opens with the old classic set piece of one’s parents catching you taking Captain Picard to Warp Factor 8. Jim (Jason Biggs) is utilising a sock for this trek, while trying to make out the more interesting parts of a dodgy cable TV channel when his parents descend upon his unlocked room. This scene is similar to that shown in Welsh film Human Traffic where actor Danny Dyer is disturbed by his mother, thus disturbing her in the process. The difference is that Human Traffic’s is a far better scene due to a pre established character and sharply executed punch line. American Pie’s opening doubles as the character establishing scene for Jim so sets him up as something of a bungling whiner, from which he never recovers. The joke is laboured to the point of ridicule as several ways out of the situation for Jim are ignored for the sake of the comedy set piece. Basically character is sacrificed for comedy, and when you are establishing a character you can’t afford to do that.
As an example of situation comedy both American Pie 1 and 2 fall short of classic American sitcoms such as Frasier and Friends. Ross’ attempts to remove his leather pants in Friends are played to greater effect than the efforts of Jim trying to remove his super glued hand from his groin. The comedy only works on a highest level if the character involved has been vividly established, something that most European efforts at slapstick fail to do. Find a Belgian version of Mr. Bean if you want to see for yourself.
They also fall short in the comedy stakes when compared to films such as Airplane! and Life of Brian, having neither the intelligence nor the comic performers to achieve those lofty heights.
American Pie 2
The original American Pie proved one of the most successful comedies of all time as its all American cast stuttered and fumbled their way towards losing their virginity. The adventures of Jim, Chris, Kevin and the rest of the gang become etched on the minds of viewers across the globe as everyone saw a side of themselves in the characters.
American Pie 2 is a dramatic improvement on the original in many ways, with the actors being allowed to develop there characters. Allyson Hannigan actually becomes a character as opposed to a joke. The relationship between Kevin and Vicky shows progression from the first film and utilises for the first time the talents of the actors involved.
The great thing about American Pie 2 is that it’s a continuation of the story rather that simply a recreation of the first film. It’s one of those rare breeds where the sequel surpasses the original.
There are one or two downsides to the film though, the recycling of jokes being the major failing. American Pie has Stilfler drinking a ‘cocktail’ that he really didn’t ought to, whereas American Pie 2 has him taking a golden shower and tasting those bubbles. These are two separate instances but the resultant joke is the same. Had this been one film, one of the scenes would have been removed as they both achieve the same result, Stifler getting his comeuppance by consuming bodily fluids.
If there’s an American Pie 3, there’s only one thing he could consume. Watch out for that chocolate cake. You heard it here first.
The joke of Jim and the web cam is also repeated in American Pie 2, this time using CB radios. Again they are different scenes, and even use some different characters but the overall gag is much the same, loads of people listening in, or watching, what proves to be an embarrassing sexual encounter. These two ‘different’ scenes achieve the same thing in terms of character progression.
These niggles aside, American Pie is a superior film to the original in terms of execution and character development. The two films have proved successful to a generation that hasn’t been exposed to any intelligent comedy, theatrically at least.
American Pie and its sequel are not as funny as either they, or their fans think they are, but they’re pretty inoffensive.