A warm-hearted, hilarious revisiting of a film that launched the teen gross-out humor genre in the ’90s, this comedy has the five principal graduates of East Great Falls High returning to their old stomping ground for an (unlikely) 13 year reunion. We open with yet another awkward sexual scenario for our protagonist, Jim; now married and with child, tries to squeeze in some “me” time (ahem) in between coddling his baby and appeasing his wife, with disastrous results. We are quickly brought up to speed on the rest of the guys: Oz has become a successful sportscaster coming off a popular run on a Dancing With The Stars clone, Kevin is a stay-at-home dad in an emasculating relationship with his wife, Finch is returning from a trip around the world, and Stifler, aging and aimless, is a beleaguered temp. As the reunion itself draws nearer, nearly every familiar face (I only noticed the absence of Stifler’s younger brother) comes back into the fray, and the five friends have to confront their lives, and whether they measure up to the image they had of their futures in high school.
The conceit behind this film is remarkably simple: they took the characters we knew and loved from the first three American Pie movies and imagined them as 30 year-olds with grown-up problems, while still keeping the gross-out vibe of their earlier exploits. The latter part proves fairly easy and rewarding, due to Jim’s continual sexual inadequacies and Stifler’s perennially undeterred frat-boy-with-a-vengeance antics. However, it was uncertain whether these characters could withstand more adult conflicts and scenarios without seeming trite or forced, and, thankfully, it is a delight to watch them take yet another step towards maturity. Like the Harry Potter or Scream franchises, the characters have aged considerably from the first entry to the last, and there is a certain tangible weight to seeing them develop both on- and off-screen. Writer/Directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, co-creators of Harold and Kumar and directors of that series’ second installment, have a full appreciation for the ins and outs of these characters, giving even the most minor side performers material to work with (this includes Sherman, Stifler’s Mom, and John Cho’s “Milf Guy #2″). The role reversal between the married Jim and his widower father, who, now, is the one who needs coaching for social interaction, is clever and remarkably effective. One moment with Stifler actually drew a tear from my eye in its honesty about the real-life attributes of that type of person as well as how limited, yet somehow innocent and pure his worldview will always be. This type of character fidelity and understanding is what defines this particular entry past its gross-out gags and uncomfortable scenarios, and makes it grade-A American Pie 13 years after the original.
The two factors into making such character-based comedy fly are the writing and the acting, and while the writing is more than up to par, without sufficient performances to back it up, this would just be a failed experiment to line the already-bulging American Pie section of the comedy shelf. Luckily everyone is up to the challenge of revisiting their famous characters (yes, even Tara Reid), and contribute to making the whole film feel like, well, a giant reunion. Eddie Kaye Thomas (in a smaller role after nearly hijacking American Wedding), Thomas Ian Nicholas, Alyson Hannigan, Reid, Mena Suvari, and requisite pro Eugene Levy settle into their respective roles like a glove, and expand on them with some unexpected, yet thoroughly appropriate twists. More faces pop in and out, such as the aforementioned Cho and newcomers Dania Ramirez and Katrina Bowden, and some of the cameos are actually really surprising and effective (they finally found another way to use Jennifer Coolidge other than as the object of Finch’s lust), but the franchise remains locked down by its original lead, Jason Biggs, and his eventual co-lead, Seann William Scott. Biggs star-power rose and fell since the last American Pie in ’03, and he hasn’t been onscreen much lately, but his reverence for this, his star-making role, is apparent from his first moments onscreen. With the added benefit of, apparently, not having aged a day, in the last decade, he plays the grown-up version of Jim with both his old, mischievous habits intact and a newfound sense of responsibility and maturity. While it seemed forced when he initially gave up Nadia for Michelle, the restraint and wisdom he eventually exhibits here feels earned and justified, and Biggs sells it all with the same charisma that made him a name actor (if not a star) after the first movie. But this series belongs to Stifler, let’s not kid ourselves. As my girlfriend said after the screening, “Without Stifler, the movie would just be about a bunch of dullards,” which is kind of the point; his major arc in this movie is whether, now that his crew is settling down and in their 30s, his shtick is still relevant or not (watching him navigate a modern day office environment rivals him greeting unwanted houseguests in the first AP). While Scott is the one actor from the series who is still riding the crest of his post-AP fame (albeit in a minor, if persistent manner), he is more aware than ever of the distinctions between Stifler and the broader devil-without-a-cause archetype he’s carved out for himself, and, inevitably, incites the biggest, heartiest laughs of the picture. Him and Jim are the main faces of the franchise, but every role, from top to bottom, is fulfilled with a loving affection for the work done over a decade ago.
Highly Recommended to fans of the American Pie series, or of reunion buddy-comedies like Beautiful Girls. The whole film has a sense of nostalgia for both the original film and the time period it was made in (’90s tunes permeate the soundtrack), which is an added benefit for non-fans, and an absolute deal-closer for the already-converted.