Is it just me, or have the American Pie films become the comedy equivalent of Michael Apted’s Up series? That British television experiment interviewed a group of school children in the 60′s and has been revisiting their lives every seven years to see how things have changed; Jim, Oz, Stifler, Stifler’s mom and Jim’s dad get similar treatment here. The difference, though (aside from the fact Pie is fiction and Up is reality), is that as we check back in on these characters, their lives and humiliating escapades we are also marking our own passage of time. American Reunion might be the best of the films simply because it commands the most baggage and has accrued the most character; most of these people, including the actors who play them, have become more endearing and interesting since American Pie.
Where were you in the summer of 1999? Me, I was working a gloomy shipping clerk job, putting myself through college, entrenched in a ‘serious’ relationship, and still reeling from the fact the world now contained a horrid Star Wars film. When I saw American Pie, I wasn’t much impressed, although I laughed plenty. It was raunchy for sure, but I was a few years out of high school and its frustrated teen anxiety mostly belonged to my siblings and their peers. Never as button-pushing as Animal House or as memorable as Porky’s and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Pie was still an uncomfortable but ultimately affectionate milestone for its target audience. And then, they made more of them; two to the theater, and four (!) loosely connected spin-offs directly to video. Now, it’s thirteen years later and everyone has come back.
Honestly, literally everyone is here. That is, after all, the point. This is as much a reunion for the audience as it is for any of the characters. Jason Biggs leads the pack as Jim, who’s no longer that awkward teen who did that thing with the pie; he’s married to Alyson Hannigan’s Michelle –no longer the awkward band camper who did that thing with the flute– and they have a baby and plenty of sexual frustration. Klein’s Oz is now into sports casting and is struggling to keep pace with his frantic lifestyle and high-energy girlfriend (Katrina Bowden), Finch has gone off and become an adventurer and mountain climber. Then there’s Stifler, who has—well, physically he’s gotten older, but that’s about all the change. Not surprisingly, his mom’s still around doing her hungry MILF thing, although Jennifer Coolidge makes it just as crazy and hilarious as it needs to be. Tara Reid, Mena Suvari, Thomas Ian Nicholas and even Natasha Lyonne are back for the ride, behaving as if they had never been away. I was most happy to reconnect with Lyonne’s Jessica, and to see the actress seemingly doing well after a few harrowing years there.
With a slight plot contrivance that accounts for no 10 year reunion, the gang gets back together for lucky thirteen and start reconnecting the dots to the older films. This one is still a sex comedy, but sex isn’t so much the driving force anymore as it is a distraction or diversion from everything else these people have going on. With the exception of Stifler, who is caught in an eternal adolescence that threatens and aggravates all those would-be ‘adults’ in his circle of friends. Sean William Scott has become a fine comedic actor since the days of the first Pie, and he actually brings most of the film’s humor and heart via Stifler’s antics and his stubborn refusal to grow up. He’s got a nice rapport with Levy too, and they are better together here than in last week’s Goon. In fact, everyone—Biggs included—is shining more brightly when next to Levy’s endearing and goofy father figure.
Eugene Levy has more than put his time in on these films; he’s the only returning cast member for every single thing with the ‘American Pie’ label. And, from the first to the last, he’s been my favorite character/performer . As Jim’s dad he always struck me as the secret heart of the series; no matter how these kids changed, or what Biggs found himself caught up in, Jim’s dad was there back at home, waiting to say something uproariously awkward and stand by his kid. He’s an honest and forthright actor who builds warmth and wicked wit into nearly everything he says or does. He’s made plenty of garbage over the years, but I’ve always admired Levy’s willingness to wiggle those eyebrows and get the big laughs. Writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who also directed Reunion, thank Levy for his contribution by giving him the juiciest part and finally allowing him to play off Jennifer Coolidge in arguably the best bits of the film. I was reminded of their work together in all those Christopher Guest comedies and they are fearless in ways the still relatively young cast just aren’t. It’s also down to Levy to deliver a moment of great poignancy during another of those talks with his son, hearkening back to memories and misadventures with his own dearly departed wife.
American Reunion is fairly conventional as sequels go; it doesn’t try anything new, it hasn’t attempted to change the structure or the nature and volume of its body-fluid gags, and it hasn’t tried too hard to grow up—it’s relying upon those aged visages and adult personas to do the work. The old songs are trotted out, the camera work is at a level usually associated with television, and there’s not a single new thought in anyone’s head. It’s an American Pie movie alright, but in that is the charm. If you had any inclination of ever spending time with these people again, Reunion is your best reason and excuse, and you will remember why you missed them.