First of all, how has it been 20 years since “American Pie” was dropped on the national entertainment landscape like a comedy A-bomb? In terms of time, it feels like it was last week. In terms of the culture, it might as well have been a million lifetimes ago.
You look around at the country we find ourselves living in, where every joke, every monologue and every comedic moment automatically gets poured through the great coffee filter of offensiveness to filter out all the impurities. Where increasingly, the point of comedy is to signal the virtue of the comedy writer while enlightening the audience to their own insufficient enlightenment. And giving people who worked hard all day at miserable jobs something to laugh about is somehow no longer the point.
But 1999 was a different time. “American Pie” came on the heels of Farrelly brothers comedies like “Something About Mary.” And the same year as “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” and “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.” So after watching Cameron Diaz unwittingly put jizz in her hair, Mike Myers unknowingly drink diarrhea and Terrance & Phillip sing “Uncle Fucker,” watching Stifler accidentally chug a beer with spunk in it just felt like a natural progression. The next logical step as the boundaries got pushed.
But if “American Pie” was just a stupid, mindless gross-out comedy – just “Porkies: The Next Generation” – no one would’ve cared and I wouldn’t be writing about it. It was much, much more. Made for the chump change amount of $11 million, with first time director Paul Weitz (who’s now doing “Mozart in the Jungle” of all things) and with a cast that was virtually unknown outside of Alyson Hannigan, who was on “Buffy,” and Eugene Levy, who’d been in everything, it landed at just the right moment in the zeitgeist to be an instant classic. It was right in that late-90s sweet spot where high school kids were beginning to live on the internet, but before cell phones. Which, if you’ve noticed, never show up in any comedy to this day, because there’s nothing funny about characters hunched over their phones, interacting with their thumbs. Try to imagine “Friends” episode where they all sit around Central Perk posting Instagram stories. Laugh??? You almost will!
What made “American Pie” work is that it felt real. I was waaay out of high school by 1999, believe me (think of me more as of the “Ridgemont High” generation) and my computers were built out of bear skins with stone tools. But Jimbo, Oz, Finch, Kevin and Stifler acted the way my friends and I acted, talked the way we talked. Mostly about getting laid, which practically none of us were. (I slowly raise my hand.) And where every group of guys had a Sherminator. At its core, it was a buddy comedy. Written around the kind of friendships high school seniors have been having with each other since the invention of the teenager.
But around those core friendships were golden comedy bits too numerous to even put a dent in the list of them. Game changers like the landmark pie sex gag. Jimbo leaving his computer on accidentally when he was trying to bang Nadia, so the whole school watches him ejaculate prematurely. Twice. Try for one hot second to imagine a movie coming out today where a guy puts a hidden camera so he can run to his friends house and secretly watch an exchange student masturbate to his porn mag. A scene like that would only appear in an “It Follows” like horror flick where the guy is planning to make a suit out of Nadia’s skin.
Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, is an eye of the beholder thing. No, you shouldn’t creep on anybody. It’s illegal. And wrong as can be. Whether or not they look like 1999 Shannon Elizabeth (who was very comfortable with nudity, bless her). I just don’t recall anyone storming out of the theater in disgust demanding their money back as Jim kept soiling his boxers in front of his entire social circle. Unless someone did and I couldn’t hear it over the other 99.9% of the theater audience pissing themselves laughing.
So yeah, this movie came out in a different time. When there was a healthy respect for the harmless and always crowd-pleasing T&A. Which is becoming a lost art, I’m afraid. When the shock value of Michelle saying “I stuck my flute up my pussy,” and being the sexual aggressor was considered female empowerment, but more importantly was funny as hell. When slipping Finch a laxative so he’d get explosive diarrhea in the girls room was hilarious and not a felony count of poisoning. When Jim’s stereotypical suburban dad excruciatingly showing him the ropes of porn actually felt plausible. When Finch calling Mrs. Stifler by her first name as she’s swiping his V-card on Prom Night and she says “Call me Stifler’s Mom,” might have gotten protests from religious groups, but the studio included it anyway because it was objectively funny as balls.
Mostly it was a time when an intelligent and at the same time lowbrow sex comedy that barely escaped an NC-17 rating (with the best collection of 90s songs ever in one movie soundtrack) could be the surprise hit of the summer. I hope you appreciated it as much as I did. Because a film like that will pass this way but once. And we will probably never see its kind again.