Has It Aged Well? Let’s Talk About ‘American Pie’

Does American Pie hold up?

When American Pie was released in 1999, I was 14 years old — old enough to be swept up in the hype around it, but not old enough to go see the MA15+ rated film without a parent. Given that my parents were strict Christians who did not want me watching a raunchy teen sex comedy, that wasn’t going to happen. The FOMO was real.

Each weekend at the video store I would try to break my father’s resolve and let me rent American Pie. “Everyone else has seen it!” I whined. No dice — he didn’t budge.

Nevertheless, I was determined to see the film that the whole school was talking about, and a 14-year-old girl on a mission should never be underestimated. First, I slipped my friend a blank VHS tape. I got her to copy the film for me, and once I had my pirated copy of American Pie, I faked a sickie and watched it at home while my mother was out grocery shopping.

It was a stealth mission of epic proportions, but it had taken me months to pull off. By the time I was finally able to watch it, the film was already a cultural juggernaut, its quotes inescapable. “This one time, at band camp” echoed through the halls of my high school between classes. The term “MILF” had entered the lexicon.

As I was watching it, I remember being underwhelmed. This was the movie everyone was obsessed with? It was fine. Perhaps my expectations had been too high, I reasoned.

Before and After: The Influences and Impact of American Pie

First things first: American Pie didn’t invent the teen sex comedy. It draws from those that came before it, namely Porky’s, Bachelor Party and the National Lampoon films like Animal House. But in the same way that Scream revitalised the horror genre for millennials in 1996, American Pie revitalised the teen comedy genre. Its success prompted a boom of teen sex comedies in the years to follow. Road TripEurotripSex Drive, and Van Wilder: Party Liason, followed in the early 2000s, Superbad arrived in 2007, and more modern takes, like Blockers and Bottoms continue to hit cinemas regularly.

Does American Pie hold up?
Universal Pictures

For those who don’t remember or haven’t seen American Pie before, the film follows a group of high school seniors who make a pact to lose their virginity before their high school prom, and to call the film a success would be an understatement. Directed by Paul and Chris Weitz and written by Adam Herz, American Pie helped launch the careers of its large ensemble cast, including Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Seann William Scott, Mena Suvari, Tara Reid, Natasha Lyonne, and Jennifer Coolidge, to name a few.

American Pie made USD$235.4 million at the worldwide box office on a budget of $11 million, and spawned three sequels with the original cast, as well as five “American Pie Presents” straight-to-DVD sequels.

Why Rewatch American Pie If I Didn’t Like It the First Time?

There are so many films from my youth that I love despite the fact that they’ve aged like milk. Last year I rewatched Dude, Where’s My Car?, a film I saw three times at the cinema. In my defence, the last time was just because it was the third film in a movie marathon, and my friends and I wanted to see the other two films. I wasn’t expecting it to be good on rewatch in 2023, but I also wasn’t expecting it to hit bingo on being racist, homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic and ableist within the first 15 minutes. There were some funny moments along the way, but overall, it was a somewhat bleak reminder of the so-called edgy era of comedy that we millennials grew up with.

Still, I hadn’t seen American Pie since that one time, not at band camp, when I was 14. I was curious to see if I’d judged it too harshly. Although I’d been underwhelmed by it, I did see American Pie 2American Wedding and American Reunion at the cinema as they were released. I couldn’t tell you what happens in any of them, but I do remember liking them more than the first film.

I wanted to revisit it to see if I’d judged it too harshly back in the day. Was it as problematic as other films of the era? Would I be able to appreciate the film that influenced so many teen sex comedies that followed? I love Blockers and Bottoms, after all. Surely I have American Pie to thank for them?

Does American Pie Hold Up?

In short, no it doesn’t. In some ways, it’s less aggressively, outwardly offensive as other films of the era (looking at you, Dude, Where’s My Car and Sorority Boys), but American Pie is a film that drips with the kind of pernicious, insidious misogyny that incels adore.

Kevin bemoans the fact that he “put in months of quality time with Vicky” while “Sherman meets a chick for one night and scores” (he didn’t, actually). “This is just wrong,” he adds.

Sherman’s perceived sexual prowess prompts Kevin to rally his friends into the virginity-losing pledge at the centre of the film.

“We’ll fight for every man out there who isn’t getting laid and should be, and by God, we will not stand by and watch history condemn us into celibacy,” he says. “We will make a stand. We will succeed. We will GET LAID!”

It’s not just the way Kevin and co. treat women like they’re little more than objects, though. There’s also the sub-plot where Jim (Jason Biggs) broadcasts Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) getting changed in his bedroom via live webcast for all to see. You know, the kind of act that is considered a federal crime in 2024. Don’t worry, though — he has to be talked into it, because he’s not a bad guy!

“Jim, get some f**king balls,” Stifler (Seann William Scott) says. “Man, if you don’t have the guts to photograph a naked chick in your house, how the hell are you ever gonna sleep with one?” 

These men all belong in prison.

Final Thoughts

Beyond the film’s glaring misogyny, it’s also not especially funny. It has a completely acceptable 95-minute runtime, and yet parts of it drag so much they’re straight up boring. I can accept that this is a film that was made predominantly for teenage boys, but I would argue that Eurotrip and Superbad are also aimed at that demographic and both of them have actual jokes in them. Still, McLovin’s character in Superbad is by and large a copy-paste of Sherman in American Pie, so I suppose that counts for something.

Heather (Mena Suvari) and Oz’s (Chris Klein) relationship is the best of the bunch. Had their story been its own romantic comedy, I probably would have enjoyed it more. It would be a pretty mediocre film, but even the most mediocre romcom would be more palatable than watching teenage boys act like oblivious misogynists at best and genuine felons at worst.

I was also surprised to find that Stifler’s Mom (Jennifer Coolidge) doesn’t appear onscreen until the 80-minute mark. American Pie catapulted Coolidge into the mainstream, so I was surprised to realise how little screen time she actually has.

Unlike the film, however, the soundtrack absolutely holds up. Maybe I’m showing my age here (I am), but American Pie features some absolutely BANGER needle drops. It’s got “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies, “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger, “Sway” by Bic Runga, “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind, and “Celebrity Skin” by Hole, which plays while Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) goes down on Vicky (Tara Reid) for the first time. If nothing else, I think we can all agree THAT is iconic.

American Pie is streaming now on Netflix and Stan.

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