By the end, you – like the characters – will likely be ready for another slice of some Pie before another decade has passed.
If you were in high school (as I was) in the late ’90s / early ’00s, American Pie was a defining piece of cinema. Not only did it mirror (with unnerving accuracy) the teen angst surrounding sex and sexuality at the time, it also ushered in the era of the R-rated, coming-of-age raunch-comedy sub-genre – a mix of explicit humor and genuine sentiment that has been imitated again and again in films like Superbad, Knocked Up - or any movie that’s even loosely connected with Judd Apatow and his gang of collaborators.
American Reunion brings the original Pie gang back at a time where the actors are well (and visibly) past their own younger years, and the world has grown finicky about what qualifies as quality raunch-com. It’s also a time when the American Pie brand has become synonymous with shoddy, direct-to-DVD spinoffs.
That said, does Reunion stand as a worthy addition to the franchise – or has this Pie gotten too crusty and stale to provide any pleasure?
The story keeps with real-world time and sees Jim (Jason Biggs), his wife Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), and friends Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Oz (Chris Klein), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Stifler (Seann William Scott) all back in East Great Falls for their 13-year high school reunion. (Side note: if the notion of a ’13-year reunion’ is too upsetting or distracting, this film is not for you.)
As the boys get back together, they find that their high school worries about getting laid and partying have been replaced with adult worries about fidelity, parenthood and careers – which doesn’t stop them from once again falling into the kind of gross-out hijinks they experienced back in the good old days. What starts out as a chance re-gathering soon devolves into an epic weekend of pranks, mishaps, sexy shenanigans - and of course, a few Pie-flavored lessons on life, love, and growing older.
American Reunion accomplishes what other belated sequels (and arguably, American Wedding) failed to do: capture the spirit of the original, while simultaneously updating the story to offer something fresh. Co-writers/co-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay) clearly saw the balance between comedy, characters, and sentiment that made the original Pie work so well, and they preserve that essence in Reunion while also letting the more fluid aspects of the film (the aged actors and modernized context) work around that core.
This wise decision sets up a well-paced lineup of comedic set pieces, in which we get that familiar American Pie flavor (explicit comedy and plenty of nudity), from a whole new perspective. Instead of trying to do anything (and we do mean anything) in order to lose their virginity, or hook-up during the summer, we watch the adult versions of these characters getting down and dirty for the sake of showing-up the new generation of teens, or rekindling a waning romance – or attempting to be responsible adults, but not quite knowing how. Granted, for teen viewers, the more adult-oriented subject matter may not be as engaging; but for us late-20s/early 30-somethings who grew into adulthood alongside these characters, the film touches on some timely topics (fidelity, responsibility) in often hilarious ways, while also offering a perfect through-line between all four films, which allows for some ‘from then to now’ reflection on what it means to grow up.
This nostalgia factor is compounded by the presence of so many familiar faces from the original film, plenty of Easter eggs that reference events in the franchise’s history, and even the settling of some unresolved matters – all of which offer a sweet bit of extra enjoyment for longtime fans. Without spoiling any of the surprises, the filmmakers have literally reached out and included just about every American Pie character imaginable, and they find great ways to implement them into this new story without feeling overly-contrived, or utterly distracting. Even with a brief moment of screen time, all of the returning players get a chance to make an impression – and, hopefully, bring a smile to fans’ faces.
The principle characters – Jim, Kevin, Oz, Finch and Stifler – are all good to have back on hand; although, admittedly, some of their respective story lines are a little shortchanged, or aren’t all that interesting. Jim and Oz have the most engaging / entertaining subplots, with Jim of course being the central focus. Stifler, as always, is treated as something of a side character (even though, ironically enough, Seann William Scott has had the most successful career out of the bunch), so his story is only half of one, really. Kevin and Finch have the clunkiest and least-interesting story arcs – but then again, that was always the case with these American Pie films, and the two characters aren’t so interesting that we want to see more from them.
Dania Ramirez (X-Men 3) gets shoehorned into the cast as a classmate we’ve (conveniently) never met, in order to expand Finch’s storyline. While she’s a fine actress, her character is still superfluous and unnecessary – and while she adds very little, she doesn’t take away that much, either. Other pieces of Pie-brand eye-candy include the return of Alyson Hannigan as Jim’s wife, Michelle (now given more depth to work from); Mena Suvari as Oz’s ex-flame, Heather (also given more to work with); Kevin’s high school sweetheart, Vicky (Tara Reid, given less to do, thankfully); 30 Rock bombshell Katrina Bowden as Oz’s “free-spirited” Hollywood girlfriend (she’s hot and hilarious); and Ali Cobrin as Kara, the girl next door that Jim used to babysit, now all grown up and filled out (leading to much R-rated hilarity). As far as sexy ladies go, American Reunion is still delivering the goods.
Instead of being used for cameo or peripheral laughs, Jim’s Dad (Eugene Levy) and Stifler’s mom (Jennifer Coolidge) are actually given something to do in this film. Between them, the veteran comedic actors manage to bring some elderly wisdom and genuine moments of sentiment to the story, as they convey the bittersweet perspective of single, middle-aged adults who have watched their children stumble and eventually grow into parents and adults themselves. A scene between the two iconic parents is both hilarious and slightly frightening, in its depiction of just how much parents know about their kids.
For those who were never big lovers of the American Pie franchise, I would rate this movie as probably being a three-and-a-half star experience, based solely on the quality of the comedic moments throughout the film. For anyone who is familiar with, or is a bonafide fan of this franchise, it’s a four-star experience when you add the nostalgia of watching the gang back together, doing what they (still) do so well. By the end, you – like the characters – will likely be ready for another slice of some Pie before another decade has passed. If that’s not an accomplishment for a Rated-R comedy series old enough to be a teenager, I don’t know what is.
American Reunion is now playing in theaters. It is Rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, language, brief drug use and teen drinking.
For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant team check out our American Reunion episode of the SR Underground podcast.