Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Great Movies That Made Going to the Movies Suck #11- American Pie

Create your own banner at mybannermaker.com!
American Pie came in the last year of the old millennium and almost single-handedly turned mainstream comedy into a dirty word. It was such a runaway success that it spawned hundreds of imitators and knock offs that were made for so many wrong reasons that it’s almost hard to remember just how good it actually was. And it was good. In fact it’s just about the definitive take on generation Y and the inherent inhibitions, mysteries, and magic of teenage sexuality. It may be lewd, vulgar and offensive, but the key to its heart was that it took sex seriously. This was not a film about a bunch of teens trying to get laid before graduation; it was about a bunch of curious kids who still had to learn the ropes while feeling the pressure of time slowly running out. To leave high school a virgin is, in many eyes, to not be prepared to face the world and all it’s joys and complications, as if the answer to life’s meaning when you’re a teen is revealed coitally. We used to think like that. There’s a lot of truth in that and the film does a delicate balancing act between being obscene and being about a bunch of guys just trying to survive at being teens. It was John Hughes with f-bombs and premature ejaculation. And although the film was funny as hell it was also sweet and knowing. It was a film that truly loved these kids and all their goofy idiosyncrasies. But most of all, even though a lot of the jokes are in bad taste, they never seem to cross the line into the realms of the impossible. Everything that happens from ingested semen to unfortunate public washroom incidents to the molesting of baked goods could easy happen to any kid with a healthy social foundation and pubescent curiosity. It’s not that American Pie made us want to go hump a pie, but aren't you kind of glad that Jim (Jason Biggs) had the courage to do it? Deep down, at that age, in that time, under such sexual naivety, it seems a logical thing to try. For such scenes American Pie also gave birth to the term “gross-out comedy,” which, yes, made sense, but that’s not what was to be valued about it. Those kinds of "icky" human things just naturally lent themselves to that group of kids as they tried new things, learned new lessons and tormented each other as only the best of friends do. But Hollywood took the term literally and turned out nearly half a decade of nearly insufferable, painfully unfunny comedy that was more focused on how much grosser it could be than the last guy instead of actually being, you know, witty, clever or likable. The list of titles is infinite: See Spot Run, Slackers, Van Wilder, Monkeybone, Whipped, Me, Myself and Irene, and so on, until the genre bottomed out with a recently amputated testicle making its way across a hospital cafeteria and landing in some poor bum’s food in Tomcats. Or wait, was it when Tom Green, pretending to be a doctor, bit through an umbilical chord in Freddy Got Fingered for no better reason than to show what it would look like if a moron pretending to be a doctor bit through an umbilical chord? The post American Pie gross-outs tested the audience. They tested how low they could go before immature teenagers would lose interest. Even John Waters, who is now, after American Pie, credited as being the originator of the gross-out comedy, felt like he was pushing boundaries as well as pushing common decency. His films, at the very least, were alive. The comedies of the early 2000s just felt uninspired, unpleasant, and unfunny as they played a vile game of one-upsmanship. Since then Judd Apatow has reclaimed the comedy and brought back some taste, wit and emotion and reminded us of all the things that made American Pie so special in the first place: it’s heart and head were always in the right place.


  1. This was one of the few movies that immediately came to mind when this whole blogathon came up. So many imitators it makes my head spin. Still holds up and still awkward as hell.

  2. Good one. Agree, like Judd Apatow's stuff. Funny, awkward comedy with a bit of heart and humor.

  3. I agree with Aiden. It's definitely one of the most influential films of the last 20 years.

    I think some credit for the gross-out comedy has to be given, also, to the Farrelly brothers, who put the semen in Cameron Diaz' hair a year before the Weitzes left it in that plastic cup of beer. In fact, the Farrellys were grossing us out way back in 1994, when Harry Dunne had a particularly nasty case of diarrhea in Dumb and Dumber.

    However, I don't think anyone specifically imitated any Farrelly movie more than they imitated American Pie.