"American Pie"

He's gotta have it in this male-masturbation comedy, but the still unreleased "Coming Soon" shows that girls need their fun, too.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published July 9, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

They say you never forget your first time. But does that still hold true if
your first time is with a freshly baked dessert?

In "American Pie," there's just no substitute for the real thing -- though that doesn't stop anyone
from improvising. As the film opens, a closely knit group of high school seniors are so
fearful of graduating with the stigma of virginity that they make a
pact to get the deed done by any means necessary. In the meantime, however,
the boys get a little antsy waiting for that one special, life-changing
place to put their penises. So while the boys look for Ms. Right -- or Ms. Right Now --
their dicks find themselves in all sorts of unseemly venues: mouths, socks and, yes, even foodstuffs.
As the story progresses, the pack's odyssey from sexual indignity to site-specific sweet
release veers from genuinely funny to totally inane to downright offensive and back again.

That the buzz surrounding "American Pie" has been so big probably
says less about the strength of the story than it does about today's movie audiences' increased
appetite for gross-out humor (the total number of movies this summer featuring inadvertent body fluid consumption is now
two -- and it's only early July). Like a number of other comedies out
there now, "American Pie" features what are fast becoming the hallmarks of the
yuk/yucks feature -- ejaculation, diarrhea, vomit, masturbation, loss of
bladder control, the spit or swallow conundrum and a whole lot of other
stuff I'm probably forgetting. Some of it does manage to be quite
funny; some of it just lies there, all by itself, without even trying to
wrap itself around a joke. I'd appreciate toilet humor more if it weren't so often so
unimaginative. (That's why I suspect the hair gel bit in "There's Something About Mary" was so memorable -- we'd never seen a spunk joke quite
like that before.) When I see a guy peeing in his pants, I just
think, guy peeing in his pants. But do something interesting with it and hey,
I'd be right there with you.

Despite its heavy focus on bodily functions and its central theme of trying to
get laaaaaiiiid, it's interesting to note that the version of "American Pie"
now opening did manage to snag an R rating from the MPAA. Especially when you consider that
another teen comedy, "Coming Soon,"
won't in fact be coming soon to theaters, due to an initial NC-17 rating. (The film is now rated R.) Like
"American Pie," Colette Burson's "Coming Soon" focuses on a group of high school students
desperate to get some sat-is-faction. The striking difference? "Coming Soon"
is about a trio of girls -- all of whom are already sexually active, but none
of whom has ever had an orgasm. Seems the folks who dole out the ratings had
a little problem with a scene in which one of the characters is shown
discovering alternate uses for the Jacuzzi jet stream -- a scene chastely
shot from the girl's bathing suit-clad shoulders up.

The lack of nudity or big ew scenes in "Coming Soon" doesn't make it a superior film, any more than
the generous sprinklings of both make "American Pie" a bad one. They're two
very different stories that happen to focus on the same subject:
adolescent sexuality. The former takes place at a posh Manhattan prep school and
features Spalding Gray making Sarah Lawrence jokes; the latter is set at a less tony Midwestern
establishment and has Jason Biggs getting caught furtively wanking to the scrambled signal of
the porn channel. But it makes you wonder why one will no doubt attract an
enormous teen audience this summer, while the other is currently languishing
without distribution.

Ultimately, the two films arrive at the same conclusion -- that
even now, in the information age, it's still different for girls. The
heroines of "Coming Soon" either wait for partners to fulfill them or
stumble upon satisfaction purely by accident; at one point a character
scoffs at the notion of masturbation as "pathetic." In "American Pie," one
overheated female exchange student stumbles on some dirty
magazines and finds her fingers "going south," and another student confesses to
creative uses for her musical instrument,
but in both cases, the girls' adventures seem more like an excuse to titillate
the boys than to do anything for themselves. The more central female
characters -- the nice girls -- are noticeably more out
of touch with their sexuality. The unfortunately under-used Natasha Lyonne (who
managed to have a moment with a vibrator in "Slums
of Beverly Hills"
and avoid an NC-17) acts worldly, but never hooks up
with anyone romantically. Heather (Meana Suvari) is a shy, virginal choir
girl and Vicky (Tara Reid) is an "I'll do anything but"-type who's never "double
clicked her own mouse" and won't go all the way with her boyfriend till he
tells her he loves her.

But the surprise of "American Pie" is that it turns out to be not just another examination
of good girls and the piggish boys who want to get into their pants. The male
characters here actually evolve into something more than mere slaves to their
priapism. With his roles in "Election" and now here as lacrosse star turned love-struck glee
club singer Oz, Chris Klein is well on his way to becoming the most
appealingly goofy new male star since Keanu Reeves whoa-ed his way through
the "Bill and Ted" movies a decade ago. He plays a jock who says he
wants to score, but secretly he longs to croon James Taylor covers and cuddle.
Co-star Eddie Kaye Thomas deftly plays an uptight but suave terminal nerd whose
route to deflowerment includes spreading wild lies about his penis size and
ass-kicking prowess. And at the Phillip Rothian heart of the film is Jim
(Jason Biggs), a porn-loving, shaft-stroking, pie-defiling walking id whose
devotion to his urges is so pure and single-minded, you've got to admire the
guy. As his trying desperately to be open-minded dad, Eugene Levy may be the
first grownup in a teen sex comedy to supply his son with educational
materials from the
Larry Flynt
empire. In other words, he's entertaining as only a
refreshingly original character can be.

As the group's members go through their respective rites of passage, some
blissfully, others with a few snags and technical difficulties, the guys
begin to realize what adults know all too well -- that sex really isn't

Judging from "Coming Soon" and "American Pie," we may still be a long
way from accepting the possibility that girls might actually enjoy flying solo. But in
the meantime there's something weirdly and humanely comforting about the
films' converse messages -- that no matter what crazy, confusing, sometimes
humiliating trials you have to go through to have it happen, sex is just one
of those things that's plain better when you've got a partner. In the end,
for all of "American Pie's" raunchy, "Porky's"-style voyeurism and body
fluid humor, its heart turns out to be downright romantic. It might not put
Sara Lee out of business, but it's encouraging to know she's still got

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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