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This week's American Reunion, coming out many years after the "American Pie" moniker stopped being synonymous with cutting-edge raunchy comedy, is appealing to a very specific kind of nostalgia, in a very specific demographic: mine. I was 15 years old when the original American Pie came out, the exact age to be properly intrigued by an R-rated comedy about high schoolers, and as much as I thought I was too good for the raunchiest at the time, I remember Stifler and Jim and Michelle the band geek as well as if they were my own classmates. The details may have faded over time, but they'll always be people I remember fondly.
But it's been--the horror!-- 13 years since the original American Pie struck like a generational lightning bolt, and I hadn't properly revisited the film since then. How would it hold up in hindsight? How would a now-adult me consider it? Was I now mature enough to admit I found it funny, or too mature to like it at all? I kept all that in mind upon rewatching it this week, and found myself marveling at a lot of things that surprised me-- jokes and performances better than I remembered, totally strange casting decisions, and a movie that felt quite a bit different than its reputation suggests. Below are 20 things that might surprise you these days about American Pie, in roughly the order that I encountered them while rewatching the movie this week. They surprised me, at least-- and I imagine I'm not alone.
1) Shannon Elizabeth is billed second. It's true. That's the magic of alphabetical order and a cast who were pretty much all unknowns. Eugene Levy, of course, gets the final "and" credit.
2) The late 90s looked a lot more like the early 90s than you remember. The girls are all in baby doll tees and high-necked dresses, but the guys all wear shirts with patterns and bold stripes that would make your head spin. At one point Jim is mocked for wearing a plaid shirt, when at this point he'd look the most normal of all of them.
3) "Mochaccino" was a valid punchline. Finch, who we meet sipping coffee out of a thermos and reading The Wall Street Journal before class, corrects the boys that he's drinking a "mochaccino." The guys, of course, have no idea what that is.
4) Jason Biggs is actually really, really good in the role. This becomes clear even before most of his standout scenes in the movie, when he approaches Nadia at the party and makes an awkward fool of himself. There's a reason he was the initial breakout star of the franchise, and maybe why he was never able to find a role quite as good-- he nails the awkward high school kid thing so well that it's hard to imagine him doing anything else. Even in small moments, like listing off vocabulary words to prove how non-awkward he can be, Biggs's comic timing is perfect.
5) There's at least one scene way, way grosser than the pie. Remember the scene where Thomas Ian Nicholas's character Kevin, um, finishes in a cup of beer, and then Stifler drinks it? Or when Finch is given ex-lax and lets loose in a bathroom stall? I had somehow blocked them out, at least, and they remain just as shocking-- and surprisingly funny-- 13 years later.
6) Natasha Lyonne is blatantly there to balance the terrible female characters, but she's still great at it. Lyonne fell on some tough times after this movie, and her presence in the new sequel is basically a cameo that justified her presence on the mirror-image poster. But she's really sardonic and funny as the know-it-all girl, and a necessary balance to the other female characters, who are either drips (Mena Suvari), ditzes (Tara Reid), dorks (Allyson Hannigan-- at least until the great twist at the end) or unrealistic fantasies (Shannon Elizabeth). Lyonne lets the movie get away with all the focus on the boys, since there's at least an acknowledgement that girls can be just as dirty.
7) The soundtrack is a perfect nostalgia trip. The official released soundtrack featured a bunch of forgettable songs by bands we barely remember-- Sugar Ray, Dishwalla, Blink-182. But the movie itself has a lot more actual hits from the era, including Barenaked Ladies' "One Week," Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life," Harvey Danger's "Flagpole Sitta" and even Fatboy Slim's "Rockafeller Skank," which was made way more famous by She's All That in the same year. If you were listening to pop music at all in 1999, you'll recognize every single song.
8) The way Eugene Levy says "shaved" is funnier than the two sequels combined. Alright, so I haven't actually revisited the two sequels, but I don't remember them fondly, and it's hard to remember much of anything funnier than Levy trying to explain porn to his teenage son, including comparing a vagina to an underwater sea creature. A lot of us had never seen Levy's work before this movie, and even knowing him from all his Christopher Guest films, his work here is terrific.
9) Casey Affleck is in this movie!Yup! He plays Kevin's brother, who tips him off to the existence of the secret sex bible hidden in the library. With roles in Good Will Hunting and 200 Cigarettes I guess he was famous enough to merit an "uncredited cameo," since he's not listed anywhere in the movie's credits, but now it just makes for a hilarious surprise.
10) The pie scene is very short, and not even the most awkward one. Eugene Levy and Jason Biggs's aforementioned chemistry means the scenes in which they actually talk are way more painful to watch now, with the pie gag having been so blown up over the years. It's still insane, sure, but very short and minimal in the scheme of things.
11) The webcam scene with Nadia is weirdly prescient. In 1999 only the characters in a teen comedy would use a webcam to broadcast their sexual exploits online. Now pretty much every kid with an iPhone can and will do it. Way to be ahead of the curve, Jim and Nadia!
12) Sometimes it's really honest about what it's like to be in high school. I was impressed by the scene where Mena Suvari's choir girl character explains her life isn't that different from the party kids, or how the band camp kids-- dorky as they are-- really are having fun. A lot of high school movies divide things between the popular kids and the losers doing nothing with their lives, but American Pie nicely captures the many, many different universes of high school, all of them distinct and largely doing just fine on their own. And yet..
13) …Sometimes it's completely, completely unbelievable. The character of Nadia especially is pure teenage fantasy, as is Stifler's mom-- both lead to good jokes, but they also kind of ruin the reality of the movie. And the less said about the cliched nonsense of Chris Klein ditching the lacrosse game for the choir championship, the better.
14) There is a monkey in this movie. One group of dudes watching Jim's webcam exploits (who are actually the band Blink 182-- how 90s can you get?) have a monkey among them, like any normal high schooler would. Back to what I was saying about that whole "realism" thing being flexible.
15) Chris Klein's story is the emotional center of the movie, and that's a mistake. Having played the dopey patsy in Election, Klein was among the better-known members of the original cast, which might explain why he's handed the only straightforward romantic story of the film. It kind of goes without saying that his plot is the dullest of the bunch-- there aren't a lot of things worth changing about the original American Pie, but I bet if director Paul Weitz could get in a time machine and stop himself, he'd fix this decision.
16) Stifler's mom is in exactly one scene. Jennifer Coolidge joins those hallowed ranks of actors who make such an impression in a small role that you totally forget how small the part was. Of course, she's much more prominent in the sequels, which might explain why her reputation looms so large, but it's still remarkable how much she does with her single scene at the end of the movie, when she shares her Scotch supply with Finch-- "Aged 18 years, just how I like it."
17) Stifler himself is also barely in the movie. Watching American Reunion I was struck by how much Seann William Scott has grown as a comic talent, and there's a reason I was so surprised-- he gets a few key, great lines in American Pie, but he's really stuck on the sidelines, playing pranks on Finch and being generally crass, but not establishing himself as an actual character. The movie does so well by most of its characters-- especially the guys, of course-- and it's surprising to see Sitfler stuck on the sidelines.
18) It knows its previous references. What felt so fresh about American Pie at the time is that it wasn't the sugarcoated teen movies of the era (She's All That, Can't Hardly Wait etc.) and it also wasn't the 80s John Hughes model. But that didn't they didn't respect their elders, with a nod to The Breakfast Club with "Don't You Forget About Me" as a song played at prom (however unlikely that would have been in 1999), and a quick hit of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" in Stifler's Mom's seduction scene, for a shootout to an even older iconic young man trying to find his place in the world.
19) Even the grossest and weirdest parts of the movie are motivated by character, which makes them work. When Stifler accidentally drinks a cup that's got semen in it, it's the result of Kevin and Vicky's awkward and formative sexual encounter, which is actually important to both characters. When Finch suffers explosive diarrhea in the girl's bathroom, it's the end of his unearned lothario status, and actually an important lesson about being who he is. American Pie doesn't lean on its lessons or anything, but it doesn't just throw in gross gags for shock value-- something none of its knockoffs remembered to do.
20) Even this many years later, it's still really, really funny. When I saw American Reunion a few weeks ago and was generally amused but not especially impressed, I figured it was about as good as the original, and I had just grown up. But American Pie remains a really special thing, specific in its humor and characters and willingness to push the envelope without having to double down on sentiment at the end. There's a reason it spawned endless knockoffs, and a reason none of them were quite its equal. I still probably prefer the sprawling, endlessly clever Can't Hardly Wait for 90s teen movie nostalgia, but American Pie holds up surprisingly well, and if you've waited long enough to forget some of the best gags, it might be just as funny. American Reunion is not nearly as embarrassing as all the other sequels, but it's still a pale imitation of the standout, irreplaceable original.
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