Apr 16, 2010

Mini-Reviews: Three slices of American Pie

DIR: Paul and Chris Weitz / JB Rogers / Jesse Dylan

The American Pie movies are not, perhaps, quite as funny now as the first was eleven years ago, when it essentially revived the raunchy teen comedy in the mould of Porkys and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The first Pie was generally spoken of as being more remeniscent of the former, but for me it's closer in both spirit and tone to the latter. That's because, behind all three of the original Pie films (I've never seen, and won't, the direct to DVD films which have followed) is Adam Herz, who apparently based significant amounts of the the story and events of each film on his own experiences with his friends. Herz' writing isn't especially original, and certainly couldn't really be called intellectual, but what he does bring to the table is an obvious affection for and understanding of the characters he's created.

Even when they're not at their best (and the sequels are both patchy, and often feel more like a series of linked skits than a real story) these thrree films are saved by the fact that Herz really seems to want his characters to grow and change through the films. They always hit familliar beats: Jim (Jason Biggs) always does something very embarrassing and unwittingly public; Stifler (Seann William Scott) is always a raging asshole, and always gets his comeuppance; Finch is refined, and always lusting after Stifler's Mom... etc etc, but most of them do grow and change through the series. It's best seen in the relationship between Jim and Michelle (the ever adorable Alyson Hannigan). In the first film Michelle is a one joke character, but the combination of Hannigan's winning performance and some surprisingly sensitive writing (particularly for a film that is otherwise so messily written) allow her to grow into a much more rounded character in the second film; someone you feel for as well as finding funny.

This all said, I know that these films aren't primarily designed as character pieces, and the accent is always very much on trying to make us laugh rather than trying to make us think. All three films are, for me, hit and miss in this respect; every one boasts huge belly laughs (Michelle's famous "This one time, at band camp" in the first film; her lessons, helping Jim prepare for meeting up with Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) in Pie 2 and the scenes in which Finch and Stifler essentially trade characters in The Wedding stick out for me) and each also has things in it that fall terribly flat, especially the second film, which suffers from trying to tell too many stories and thus sacrificing laughs.

Overall, this is one of the more consistent trilogies out there, the first probably remains, just about, the best but the solid performances, the reliably funny writing and an unusual level of thought at character level make it a close run thing and mean that all three of these films are fun to revisit.

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