By: Addison Wylie
Time has not sunk this teen movie series but that all depends on how you look at this final (?) instalment of the theatrical American Pie films.
Part of the fun of watching American Reunion is that the original cast have all returned to fulfill their original roles they played over a decade ago. Roles that helped establish this group of aspiring talented young actors.
Having put up with mediocre to passable straight-to-video offsprings, seeing the old gang reunite for one last hurrah (?) rejuvenates these movies. However, this overcoming feeling only occurs at the beginning of the film (when the characters first meet each other) and during the East Great Falls high school reunion itself; a portion of the movie where it feels like we’ve been transported back to the days of super baggy pants and Blink 182’s Enema of the State (and to eagerly awaiting fans, no. We do not see the members of Blink 182 nor hear any of their music. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news).
That said, I didn’t fall in love with this movie as much as I wanted to. It’s not that I was comparing the film to its predecessors. It’s just this film lacked a certain finesse that helped carry the prior comedies.
The fact that these characters are now much older contributes to the missing piece. Obviously, the actors can’t look younger. Maybe, if motion capture enthusiast Robert Zemeckis had been involved. But, I disgress.
Nope, the problem doesn’t lie within the look. In fact, as the film builds momentum, the actors have no problem reliving these characters while adding an element of maturity.
We see Jim and Michelle (respectfully played by Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan) living a comfortable life with their young son. The one major problem in their relationship is that the couple can’t find ways to spice up their sex life. They always feel like they are on “parent mode”.
Then, we have Stifler; the potty-mouthed audience favourite, played by Seann William Scott. He still loves to joke around but, after landing a boring desk job, his boss constantly reminds Stifler that he is not a big shot and that he is just another employee at the office.
Then come the rest of the company. We see a few of the friends have settled down and may or may not be happy with their home lives and we see recurring side characters who have had a change in sexuality or have gone through some sort of rough patch.
The school reunion stands as an event where despite the conflicts and boring grown up duties, past graduates can get together and relive the days of having limited worries and picking up where they last left off.
It reminds the audience that what worked well with the American Pie movies is that sense of recklessness and hi jinx among a budding community trying to learn how to grow up. A reminder that occurs during the beginning of the film and during the East Great Falls high school reunion itself and not during its middle.
And, there’s the missing piece! This is why the film takes a hit during its climb. The problem doesn’t lie with the likeable cast but with the new choice of writers/directors.
It’s confusing as to why Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg have been brought on to direct American Reunion. The only other theatrical directing credit the two have was their work on the seriously disappointing Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. However, that’s in the past. What’s also in their past is their non-existent working relationship to the American Pie films.
It’s not that these guys are bad directors or writers. In fact, there are some very heartwarming and sweet moments. Notably the scenes starring Jim and his Dad (played by Eugene Levy).
The problem lies within their experience and their inability to do anything interesting with these characters. They may be huge fans of the first three films but they fail to grasp what makes these kids-now-adults tick.
And you, as the reader, don’t say there’s nothing to grasp in these teen movies. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing about the first moon landing or someone’s first kiss. There’s always something to build upon and flesh out.
The American Pies have all had different directors but the difference between them and the Hurwitz/Schlossberg team is that those previous helmers understood the characters and knew exactly where to take them. Mind you, it also helped that there wasn’t a huge age gap between films.
With American Reunion, the amateur directors have a daunting task. They must connect to the characters BUT also fill the large time void and communicate to audiences what these people have been up to since 2003. How can you build a history when you’re still solving the puzzle?
Because of this, we get a lot of “safe” conflicts that you’d find in a sitcom. Some may find it easier to connect because these cherished characters are now broadly relatable, but to the rest of us, it’s not exactly the definition of interesting.
Audiences who have been following the directorial duo can now fully understand the type of humor these two like, extreme gross-out jokes that leave nothing to the imagination. Their approach was annoyingly aggressive in Harold and Kumar 2 but here, it’s been tamed. Not to perfection, but better.
Funny scenes benefit from sudden, well timed edits; even if the surprise image is graphic. A scene where Biggs is pantless in his kitchen and is hiding his bottom half from Michelle and her band buddy has an unexpected cutaway that will have you laughing as the punchline is unfortunately burnt into our minds.
But, other jokes are almost too excessive; as if their overreaching for more than one punchline. During a sequence where Stifler is playing a prank and is defecating in an antagonist’s cooler, the joke would’ve sufficed from it’s use of sound effects and Scott’s talent to milk laughs. That said, did we really need the baddie to pull out and extendedly look at the disgusting present?
The initial introductions between the friends and the reunion scene work so well because of the immediate chemistry on screen. Even if Hurwitz/Schlossberg turn the film on autopilot, the audience is still having a good time. I have no doubt that if you were a fan of the original American Pies, you’ll have a pleasant time being reacquainted. However, you may feel like the film could’ve gone even further. An extra (naked) mile, if you will.