REVIEW: Sex Is Messy — Even Without Pie — in American Reunion

Movieline Score: 7
americanreunion_rev

It ought to be no fun watching characters you came to know as randy, unruly high school students turn into grown-ups with jobs, families and crappy sex lives. That’s what happens to real-life people; why subject fictional characters to it? But somehow American Reunion — the third movie sequel to Paul and Chris Weitz’s hall-of-fame teen sex comedy 1999 American Pie — makes the harsh reality jolt almost painless.

The picture is devilishly entertaining, not least because it’s laced with just the sort of dumb raunchy jokes you hate yourself for laughing at. But it also preserves, to a degree, the elemental sweetness that made the original (though not the two subsequent sequels) so distinctive: In the first movie, embarrassment and awkwardness over sex results not just in a mess in the kitchen, but in painful and unbridgeable rifts between people. In American Reunion, that awkwardness may have lessened somewhat, but it hasn’t completely gone away. You can think you’re trading old problems for new ones, only to find that the old ones are perennial – they just find different ways to flourish in your life.

That’s a discomforting idea in the midst of a picture that trades mostly in gags about tube socks’ being used for illicit personal business, nostalgia for the mind-blowing oral sex of yore (meaning high school) and men who, as they near middle age with all its attendant spare tires and love handles, can’t help looking hungrily at the nubile teenage babes they used to be able to attract. Directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (the masterminds behind the always-silly but also surprisingly progressive Harold and Kumar franchise) are perhaps more comfortable dealing with ridiculous sex jokes than they are with raw human feeling. Still, American Reunion chugs along with brash confidence, unembarrassed about how crude and goofy it is. Dumb cheerfulness – in the face of life’s big quandaries, no less -- is its big selling point.

Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan are back as Jim and Michelle; they’ve managed to survive a few years of married life and now have a toddler son, which means, of course, that their sex life has taken a nosedive. Still, they’re looking forward to getting away from it all at a weekend reunion with the high school old gang: Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is now a stay-at-home architect whose life is ruled by his significant other; Oz (Chris Klein) is a smooth TV sports analyst with a pneumatic blonde girlfriend; no one even knows where Eddie Kaye Thomas’s Finch is (though he makes the most glamorous entrance of the bunch, perched on a motorcycle and swathed in mystery); and Stifler (Seann William Scott) is still being vulgar, horny, annoying Stifler, so much so that he hasn’t even been told about the reunion.

That doesn't stop him from showing up, and he proceeds to work all kinds of satyr-like mischief. The girls show up too, and characteristically, they seem to have evolved further than the guys have. Oz’s old squeeze Heather (Mena Suvari) arrives on the arm of her surgeon-boyfriend, only to realize she’s still captivated by her ex-boyfriend’s luminous guilelessness (which he’s held onto even though he’s now a show-biz guy). And Kevin melts at the sight of Vicky (Tara Reid), even though he’s clearly happy with his bossy wife. Meanwhile, Michelle bemoans her moribund sex life, and a new character, Selena (Dania Ramirez), arrives on the scene to serve as a love interest for one character who truly deserves one.

The sordid silliness that ensues includes Jim's being seduced by the now-comely young woman for whom he used to baby-sit; Stifler showing up in full party regalia, an “Orgasm Donor” T-shirt; the marvelous Eugene Levy, in an array of short-sleeved dad shirts, attempting to re-enter the dating game (he has a great moment where he asks, earnestly, if a “vadge” is half a vagina); and Jennifer Coolidge as the legendary vixen known only as Stifler’s Mom, who spends her few small scenes relaxing (and almost audibly purring) on a divan as she waits for her next victim to enter her lair.

It’s all as ludicrous as you’d expect, but everybody goes away having learned a little something about life, love and assorted unorthodox sexual practices. The plot takes a few missteps: Eddie Kaye Thomas’s Finch – who, in the first movie, was a debonair misfit high-schooler in an ascot – is given a cool backstory that’s ultimately taken away from him, a grave mistake. But mostly, Hurwitz and Schlossberg (who also wrote the script, based on Adam Herz’s original characters) allow everyone the appropriate amount of dignity – and remember, these guys don’t need much. Least of all Scott’s Stifler, who, in all his wickedness, really is the movie’s heart and soul, so pure in his Stiflerness that it’s impossible to revile him without loving him too. At one point he flips through the yearbook and reminisces about a favorite sexual conquest: “She was the mouth that got away!” he says wistfully. But he too is forced to reckon with some mind-blowing realities: The look on his face when he learns that two – or more! – of his fellow lacrosse-team members are gay is that of a kid who’s just seen Santa Claus getting it on with mom. His disbelief is so pure and naïve that it’s almost not funny -- but in the end, of course it is. And the movie gives him, and his lacrosse-player pals, a clever and welcome moment of grace. American Reunion is suitably generous toward its characters. For those who are turned off by such blatant displays of humanity, there are also dick jokes. You see, everybody wins.



Comments

  • AS says:

    I hate to bring it up, but I have to. American Reunion = 7 / 10, Inception = 3.5 / 10. Ladies and gentleman, STEPHANIE ZACHAREK.

    • Ken says:

      Glad you brought it up, As -- If she was any kind of film critic, she would've given "Inception" a 1.5. Amateur.

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      Oh, Jesus, get OVER it.

      • AS says:

        It's just the most glaringly ridiculous example of Zacharek's poor taste. I could have also cited the 6.5 / 10 she gave to Tree of Life. That's right, American Reunion is better than The Tree of Life. It's just that she's such a joke.

        • Craig says:

          Sorry, but Tree of Life just wasn't very good.

          Looked amazing, but 20-40 minutes too long.

        • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

          Not to troll, but American Reunion IS better than The Tree of Life.

          • AS says:

            I'm hardly a Tree of Life cheerleader, but your assertion that a misogynistic film with undertones of male chauvinism is superior to the Tree of Life or Inception is down right insulting. I understand that it's now cool to piss on so called "art films" or films that "take themselves seriously" but that's a bridge too far.

          • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

            I dunno, I'm more insulted by the overtones of consensus and groupthink that Stephanie's most ardent opponents always impose on a conversation about something as subjective as film criticism. What does any critic owe you other than a point of view and a recommendation? All a number rating means -- whether here or at Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic or wherever -- is the strength of the recommendation itself. The most essential element is the point of view, which SZ always delivers but which is too often overshadowed by the "she didn't like Inception!" crowd. It's fascistic, reductive, smug and embarrassing -- we spend hours and hundreds of words drawing up a perspective, and like clockwork, the haters show up with a stock dismissal that has nothing to do with any of it.

            You think you're some champion of great cinema? Come on. You're a garden-variety ideologue, just like the rest of them.

          • AS says:

            Whether you realize it or not, some films are blatant trash. My point was that it is ludicrous to claim that a film so dimwitted (and yes, it is in fact dimwitted) as American Reunion is placed above other clearly superior films. I will never bring up the example of Inception again, as it's clearly become too easy for you and others to lop me into the narrow category of a "garden-variety ideologue." It just happens to be one of the more memorable examples. You know, there's a reason that people like Armond White are thought of as a joke. It's because their opinions are so far out and nonsensical that no reasonable person can take them seriously. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a "good film" and a "bad film."Inception? The Tree of Life? They may not be "great works on cinema" in your eyes, but to suggest that they are inferior to something as, quite frankly, stupid as American Reunion is insane. That was my point. It's unfortunate that you seem incapable of articulating yours without insulting my character. I never criticized SZ as being ignorant or stupid. Based on her writing, it's clear that she is neither. I merely called her taste into question. And duh, film criticism is subjective, but like I say, there is a fine line between reasonable deviation from popular opinion and outright contrarianism.

          • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

            Whatever. All I'm saying is SZ puts specific points of view about specific films on the line every week. And then you and others drop in with sweeping abstractions about "good film," "bad film" and "reasonable deviation[s] from popular opinion." I have no idea what any of that means, or where films from Animal House to Dumb and Dumber would be if everyone applied the same objective standard of good or bad or smart or stupid or art or trash or whatever. I'm not asking you for some forensic read here, just have a little more sophisticated take than "THAT'S LUDICROUS."

          • AS says:

            When one's job is to put out their opinion for all to read, it must be understood that their opinion will be challenged. I find it very immature for you or anyone else to criticize me for challenging that opinion. It's like going "here is my stance on this film, now take it or leave it. And you if you don't agree, simply walk away without comment. Should you voice an equally passionate response, I will step back into the cozy position of 'the humble critic' who is only offering their modest opinion." Sorry, but I call bullshit! You are entitled to your opinion and I am equally entitled to mine. There is more than enough room for both in the public square. I'm sorry that you've had to deal with such an unsophisticated novice as myself. I find it ironic that you seem to be preaching the acceptance of a different "point of view" while coming across as increasingly condescending at the same time.

          • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

            How's this for compromise: We can both call bullshit, because you're not challenging an opinion, and no one ever asked or expected you to "simply walk away without comment." Rather, you are expressing a critic's wrongness -- and the "superiority" of one film over another -- as empirical facts. Then you rail against that critic's taste and all but accuse her of irrelevancy using the same old canards and without any substantive critical counterargument about the film(s) at hand. And then you want me to just let it go.

            Ninety-nine times out of 100, I would let it go. However, as you mentioned, these are our jobs, and you don't get to come here, call my chief critic a "joke," tell us how illegitimate our work is without any specific critical counterpoint about the actual movie being reviewed, and then -- when I dare call you out -- say, "Oh, it's just my opinion. There's more than enough room for both. You're condescending." Especially after you claimed this review signaled a "bridge too far." That's not very accommodating of other opinions, and it's not at all my job to let you have it both ways.

          • AS says:

            Your chief film critic is a joke... no, I kid.

            You seem to be hanging your argument on the notion that I did not offer what you consider to be a "counter-argument." Well, my intention in commenting on the review was not to launch into a full blown review of my own. However, I did say I felt the film was "a misogynistic film with undertones of male chauvinism," which, among the general stupidity of the piece, is my main gripe with the film.

            To me, it seems, this is a glaringly offensive aspect of the film which goes completely unaddressed in SZ review. When male sexuality/nudity is depicted in the American Pie franchise it's played for laughs. Female sexuality, of course, is meant to be titillating. All of the females characters in the film exist solely to attract the nerdy men. Their only function is to remove their clothes for male viewers to gawk at. And of course, despite how unattractive and nerdy the men are, they always get the girl. The female characters themselves are bland and uninteresting. Is Mena Suvari's character a surgeon? Ha! Of course not, how ridiculous. No, that would be her boyfriend. Who has the successful career as a TV sports analyst? Is it one of the female characters? Nope, it's Oz. And his girlfriend is undoubtedly accomplished herself, right? Wrong again, she's a blonde bimbo. And then there's Kevin, who happens to be an architect. But the thing that's ruining his life is, you guessed it, his annoying wife. Last but not least is Stifler, of course, who's spends his days objectifying women. But he is to be laughed at, right? SZ herself describes him as "the movie’s heart and soul," which says it all. You see, the issue here is that the behavior, attitudes, and characterizations are not described as being misogynistic, which is what they are. They are shrugged off as "silliness." This film is much more than just simply bad, it's damaging. It reinforces these negative and harmful viewpoints of women. So I find it shocking that SZ seemed to be completely unaware of all of this. That is my beef with her as a critic and her favorable review of this film. You asked for a counter-argument, you got it.

          • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

            Thank you! In all sincerity, I appreciate it. I'm glad to have this context.

            I obviously wouldn't speak for SZ, but I think there are certain genre conventions -- and ultimately, this is the archetypal sex/raunch-comedy genre entry -- that come into play when reviewing a movie like this. And it's a slippery slope: If you're going to call this "damaging," then suddenly you're implicating a whole raft of films in the same tradition (Fast Times? Stripes? Superbad? Top of my head, forgive me; I'm not necessarily conflating them) that have similar spiritual DNA. And if you do that, then suddenly you're getting into a close canonical read when basically our target is the studio's target: Men aged 18-35, hopefully with some franchise familiarity and willing dates, who just wanna know if the movie's worth seeing or not.

            That's all the 7 means. Again, speaking for myself, I don't perceive it as a qualitative measuring stick against which we compare Malick's apples to Hurwitz/Schlossberg's oranges. It's just: How much does one critic recommend it? Your mileage may vary. And by all means, let's have a conversation? I just hope we can keep it to the film, but hey.

          • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

            AS, Oz is mostly made to seem the public's whore -- if one of the female characters was made the sports analyst, but best known as the star who did an outlandish uncalled-for strip routine only to be humiliated with a low score, could this possibly be classified as an example of outrageous misandry? What if further she was so much now demeaned to be the public's property, strange men felt welcome to sexually gesticulate with and make a further mockery of her ... with her only recourse from humiliated helplessness, an embarrased shrug? It's clearly 50s Playboy, but inversed.

            Stifler's efforts to objectivize women are soundly applauded in the film? Maybe so, but it is with some art that this could be made so while also making the objectifier the film's urinal. (He took a dump on his younger replica, but fittingly the rest of the film took a dump on him.) To me it played out as '70s Animal House, but inversed.

            In fact, if there is a misognynist spirit in this film, to me it would have to be argued to be found in how very determined it is to go at the men ... as if a superego forced so strongly at work, its reveal betrayed the sure existence of a strong, dissident, countering inclination.

            Since I haven't said it anywhere, I'll say it here: all this said, I did enjoy this movie -- very amiable.

          • AS says:

            @Stu, Fear not! I do have the same exact issues with all of the films you mentioned. I don't believe that just because they are fairly well defined "genre conventions," it makes it any less repulsive. There was a time when blackface was totally acceptable. The fact that it was accepted didn't make it less offensive. It irritates me to no end when I'll read reviews of these kinds of films (be they positive or negative)and at no point does the critic bring these things up. I remember watching the opening scenes to The Hangover (before the men embark on their odyssey) and thinking "my god, do these women have no lives? Do they spend their entire day sitting at home on their couches, knitting, waiting for their men to return home? Have we not evolved since 1833? And here I am, a 19 yr old, straight, white male thinking this! And I'm the film's targeted demographic! I can't imagine what women must think when they watch this stuff. But I guess that's the larger issue which gets under my skin. Women don't seem to have an issue with the way they are being depicted in these trashy films. Which is something I suppose I'll never understand. You always hear talk of Lars Von Trier & Brian De Palma being accused of misogyny, which I don't necessarily agree with, but even if I did, those guys don't hold a candle to these films. Anyway, happy to see we may have found ourselves on the same page. I will concede to being slightly insensitive when I referred to SZ as "such a joke." But then I didn't realize we were all such sensitive Suzann's.

          • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

            This is interesting. I wonder how widespread your distaste for these films is among the target demo -- if there's this undercurrent of young guys feeling frustrated with and helpless to change the genre status quo. Michelle touched on this a bit in her Project X review, I think: How, when placed within the proximity of a real woman, a pair of young male moviegoers made an instant, almost regretful connection between her and the object of the film's leering "affections." Did they enjoy the film any less? Who knows? But I think they privately knew what was happening onscreen was both base and yielding radically diminished genre returns -- even if they had never necessarily seen antecedents like Fast Times or Bachelor Party or whatever. (Jen had a really good read on the phenomenon as well.)

            As far as thin-skinnedness, I try to be as consistent as possible in not tolerating personal remarks about our team. Disagree all you want, as vehemently as you like, but please just keep it to the movies.

          • Artist-hating Charles says:

            Just don't lump me in with that group trying to change the genre status quo, S.T.

            I live by the Al Bundy credo:
            Hooters hooters, yum yum yum
            Hooters hooters, on a girl that's dumb

  • trendon0 says:

    I've loved reading Stephanie's reviews since her Salon days. I still enjoy them at Movieline, and now get an extra kick of enjoyment seeing how long it takes for someone to bring up her Inception review EVERY SINGLE time she reviews another movie. Get over it people, Inception came out TWO YEARS ago!

    • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

      There have been a couple here lately, but otherwise I haven't heard an "Inception" comment in quite some time. Movieline knew that in hiring Stephanie they were getting a great critic, but also one who quite plausibly could loathe a film that could end up being very dear to many readers' hearts. It's enough for the site to slowly fold in some good number loyal fans' considerable feelings of betrayal into the history and integrated experience of the site, and not helpful to have it have to do deal with those fans of Stephanie's dropping by from elsewhere but to jackal more at them. She didn't mean to hurt, and didn't glee at the harm caused. But you do.

    • Artist-hating Charles says:

      I've been reading SZ for about 10 years now, and I'm grateful for all the bad movies she steers me away from that just about every other critic is recommending. How do I know they're bad? I don't always take her advice. Inception,, the Batman movies, No Country For Old Men -- I could go on and on. (This explains why I skipped The Tree of Life despite the obviously amazing visuals.)

      So I forgive Stephanie for going overboard on a trifle like The Artist. And I also know when not to listen to her (Footloose, American Reunion and any movie that co-stars Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp).

  • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

    Perhaps it's the foremost goal now for most in life, not to be a runaway success, but to situate yourself so you've got a comfy-enough seat to watch the ride. It's been 13 years, and it seems the point of the reunion is to strip away whatever attenuations becoming visibly an adult after high school brings upon you -- something for self-esteem purposes, you need to have felt you've donned -- to mostly lounge back lifelong into an old knit you've always known as pleasing and comfortable. Well, for these characters, good for them. It'd be nice to see people settle into their permanent habitat after they're fully formed, rather than while still shadows of greater essences -- of true "Himalayan" adventurers (the film didn’t need to remove the “Himalayan” from him, as it never seemed true enough to him to seem more than a generous accentuation befitted out of kind recognition of the worthy, salutary, benefactor things he does possess), of truly individuated, mature married couples -- but I think even with where they all are, with their base, they'll have fun, and know some good living.

    I think they'd be wise, though, not to be made subjects for any further subsequent films. Stifler, the only one of them who remains an agent of what we normally think of as true living -- that is, not just horking down hotdogs with genial-enough friends but generating, initiating new life (expanding) experiences -- seems almost used up by his having to play through all the requisite and wholly predictable (in a time where collectively to help bide time we make ourselves feel evolved and accomplished perhaps primarily by ridiculing white male "prep'" prejudices, it plays out as requisite, not a surprise, that Stifler's teammates turned out gay) humiliations that have to be suffered upon him. The film seems to know as much, as an effort -- a sustained one -- is made to resuscitate him in the last number of moments before its finish. He's funneled every available target to feast and food for himself some thorough banging or deflating, without of course -- or at least in a fashion we can easily deny -- chiseling away one iota at categories of people we are fully vested in remaining righteously affiliated with. But it still plays out with him seeming more like their potentially straying, thoroughly wrought-over, dashing-this-way-and-that-simply-owing-to-his-being-over-stimulated-to-the-point-that-he-doesn't-really-initiate-anything-but-rather-is-a-slave-respondant-to-whatever-lash-stimuli-hits-his-brain, dog on a leash, than a co-equal who can confirm with what he generates that yet still with ample provisions, mapped-out destinations, and of course pre-selected accommodations, they'll themselves know in life some subsequent true adventure.

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