American pie

American Pie’s transmogrification into a cinematic brand (ala National Lampoon) has had the effect of diminishing its cultural reputation, its original qualities drowned out by a series of substandard sequels and tangentially-related spin-offs; dire straight-to-video monstrosities whose only connection to the first film are some inept stabs at raunchiness and the depressing, contractually-obligated figure of Eugene Levy.

From its working title onward ("Untitled Teenage Sex Comedy That Can Be Made For Under $10 Million That Most Readers Will Probably Hate But I Think You Will Love”) American Pie was a witty, self-aware film. It’s easy to forget, as indeed the straight-to-video spin-offs did, that beneath the gross-out comedy was a disarmingly sweet story. The film understood that its protagonists’ abortive attempts to lose their virginities had little to do with their libidos and was instead an expression of their fear of leaving their comfortable adolescences behind for an adult world. As such, it treated the characters’ journeys with a surprising amount of sensitivity: it embarrassed them freely, of course, but was never cruel.

The film’s third (or seventh, depending on how you’re counting) sequel, American Pie: Reunion revisits those same characters – now with puffier faces and more facial hair – 13 years after the first film as they prepare for their school reunion. Despite the publicity material touting the return of the original cast to the series, notably missing is the original creative team of screenwriter Adam Herz and directors Paul and Chris Weitz. Their absence is sorely felt: the film misses an opportunity to genuinely explore the disappointments and pleasures of adulthood with the same perceptiveness that the original explored the end of adolescence, something that would have been greatly helped by the fact that the actors’ subsequent careers have largely unimpressed, despite their youthful promise.

A scene mid-way through the film illuminates this: the central characters, having met up ahead of the reunion, decide to head to the romantic lakeside which they remember from their school days. They arrive to find a party already in progress, populated by the current high school students. Crestfallen, they realise that they’re no longer welcome. They’ve had all the formative experiences at the lakeside that they’re ever going to get, replaced in their own youth by the teenagers who have followed them. A significant part of their youth has left without them noticing, never to return.

It’s a melancholic, very real moment, or at least it would be if it wasn’t immediately followed by the characters heading to the lakeside anyway, feeling in no way awkward about being thirtysomethings at a teenage party. The teenagers at the party all look like models and act like sexpots, which could be a comment on what youth looks like to those on the outside of it, but is probably just bad writing: outside of the returning characters, who at least have two dimensions to cling to, everyone else is frustratingly one-note. The world of American Pie: Reuinion is one of shouty bosses, libidinous neighbours, and jerk boyfriends, paper-thin creations whose existence furthers the plot but provides no mystery about where anything is heading. The returning characters don’t fare much better: each one is given a single issue revolving around their advancing age, which they must deal with in the most straightforward, obvious way possible, preferably culminating in a climactic sex scene with someone.

Disappointingly, American Reunion has nothing of interest to say about sex, adulthood, aging, or maintaining friendships with people with whom you have a shared history but little else in common any more. If a viewer were to play a drinking game where they had a drink every time a character walked in on another in a compromising situation, it wouldn’t be long before that viewer would need medical attention. This would be all forgivable if the film was funny, but its comedic set pieces are rote and overly familiar. Perhaps the first sequel in the series with the potential to be more than a tired retread, American Reunion ultimately joins the other instalments in having scant reason to exist, and in being destined to mean very little to anyone.