A Look Back: American Pie

The other day, I decided that the movie “American Pie” would be appropriate to review the week of July 4th, which started me thinking about movies set in that period, how things have changed drastically in the way teens communicate in relatively few years and hoverboards. Seriously, by this time – gazing ahead to the future from the eighties perspective, people might have achieved their dream of riding hoverboards to school and to work. Also, there were going to be robots that would do everyone’s menial jobs both at work (not so good) and at home (definitely a bonus). On the plus side, no one has managed to detonate a nuclear bomb and obliterate the planet, so I shouldn’t complain. Plus, the popularity of the cell phone has skyrocketed to the point where if you don’t have one, people assume you are Amish. It’s also ensured that pop songs with the line “waiting by the phone,” now sound ancient.

What does this have to do with “American Pie”? Well, it was a movie which, at the time, was popular and considered reasonable approximation (by Hollywood standards) of how “today’s teens” interacted, but now given the leaps in technology, it appears like it belongs in the horse-and-buggy era. Technology is changing so fast that movies that came out not so long ago that the (young) characters communicate in ways that are now obsolete. “Can’t Hardly Wait” (1999) appears downright quaint in the hero’s (Ethan Embry’s) quest to get a letter to the girl of his dreams. “Mean Girls,” (2004) also looks rather old-fashioned with the school’s Queen Bee terrorizing everyone with her nasty “Burn Book.” As in, an actual notebook. That could only be “hacked” by manually stealing it. Meaning that the online antics of Jason Briggs and his friends in “American Pie” have acquired a dusty golden nostalgic tint by now.

The plot, what there is of it, consists of a group of high school friends who make a pact to lose their virginity before prom night. They are Jason Briggs (the Goofy One), Chris Klein (The Jock With a Heart of Gold), Thomas Ian Nicholas (The Ladies Man), Eddie Kaye Thomas (The Faux Sophisticate), and Seann William Scott (The Boorish Party Animal and token non-virgin). They come up with various schemes in order to achieve this – it’s Jason’s character who winds up embarrassing himself via podcast and also with the title dessert. Why pie? Let’s just say it has something to do with bases.

Anyway, “American Pie” did a few things that marked it as noteworthy, at the time. It:

1. Showcased this newfangled thing called the Internet that could be used by people of ordinary intelligence to make fools of themselves and embarrass themselves in the eyes of the entire school population. For a period preceding that, movie computers were mostly used by young characters, (all anti-social geniuses), to hack into government websites and inadvertently start war, or create dream girlfriends that later came to life. (Can you imagine how fast the news of Jason’s humiliation would have spread in the social network era? He’d be lucky if he could get a job.)

2. Forever altered the way people view band camp, which used to be seen as a decidedly geeky way for teens to spend their summer, not a hotbed of sexual activity.

3. Kicked off its own franchise, which given that none of the characters were based on ones in best-selling novels or superheroes, is impressive.

4. Introduced the phrase “M.I.L.F” into the common vernacular, at least that’s where I first heard it.

5. Gave us two adult characters who actually made as much of an impression as the teen ones. They were Jim’s Dad, played by Eugene Levy, who dispenses advice on sex to his hapless son (Jason Briggs), and Stifler’s Mom (Jennifer Coolidge), the aforementioned M.I.L.F.

A catchphrase and a franchise – that’s something the John Hughes’ teen movies never accomplished – unless you count “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” (You could also argue that a single movie leaves lots of scope for fanfiction.) But like the Hughse’ movies, the filmmakers (mostly) seem to be laughing with, not at, their characters, which makes it something that’s still watchable years later.

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