"American Pie"

The "unrated" version catches a teen boy and a pastry in flagrante delicious, but where are the girls?

Published July 20, 2000 6:10PM (EDT)

"American Pie"
Directed by Paul Weitz
Starring Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Natasha Lyonne and Tara Reid
Universal; widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: Director and cast commentary, outtakes, promotional video, more

I've always been wary of people who write off teen movies as mindless juvenile entertainment. When they're done well, teen comedies can offer a kind of pleasurable insight in addition to laughs: There's something touching about seeing young people navigate the alternately funny and treacherous territory of sexual politics, making all the mistakes we made and some new ones. And sometimes movies aimed at teenagers have a more realistic and intelligent grasp of the tenuous truce between the sexes than movies aimed at adults do.

"American Pie" stands apart from even the better teen comedies of recent years for its unabashed sweetness, its breezy direction, its testosterone-addled poignancy and its clever reaffirmation of the age-old idea that women mature much, much earlier than men do. A group of high school guys (including affably awkward Jason Biggs and charmingly well-scrubbed Chris Klein) make a pact to get laid by prom night, and they start by employing a range of typical boy tactics to achieve their goal. The girls (among them winsome Mena Suvari), of course, want none of it. Eventually, the guys start to get the hang of things, but their diminutive triumphs always backfire. In "American Pie," boys, who in previous teen comedies have so often been made to seem like the rulers of the free world, are constantly the butt of the joke. It's the girls who know what's what. And even though these alpha-challenged males are ostensibly the central characters, the movie -- like these guys' lives -- really revolves around the young women.

On prom night, Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) finally gets his longtime girlfriend, Vicky (played with wrenching vulnerability by Tara Reid), to have sex with him. The camera focuses on her the whole time -- and she's miserable. It's not that she's uptight; this just isn't the right time for her, or, more likely, he's not the right person. Instead of showing us the male fantasy you'd expect to see in a teen movie ("She doesn't think she'll like it, but I'll change her mind"), "American Pie" is unflinching about the ways in which men (particularly young men) so often fall short, of their own expectations and of women's. "American Pie" may be most famous for the scene in which Biggs does the nasty with a baked-goods item, but its sensitivity to the sexuality of teenage girls is often overlooked.

There are two versions of "American Pie" on DVD: One is the version seen in theaters, and the other is an "unrated" version. (The most significant difference is that in the latter, Biggs goes at the pie on the kitchen counter instead of being caught coyly holding it up to his crotch.) The DVD extras aren't significantly illuminating. The commentary track features the directing/producing team of Paul and Chris Weitz, writer Adam Herz and several of the movie's male actors; while it's amusing at times, it's just too lax -- it feels more like a bunch of guys hanging out than anything else. As one of the men points out at the very end of the commentary, it's a shame none of the women was included, and he's right. They're the key to what gives "American Pie" so much heart.

To the next review in the DVD Room

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By Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

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