Review: American Pie – Reunion

American Reunion © Universal Pictures

It’s been almost a decade since their last theatrical outing, but four direct-to-DVD spin-offs later it’s time for another slice of slightly stale pie.

When the original American Pie was released in 1999, it seemed that cinema was given permission to be naughty again. Teen sex comedies in the 1980s saw Porky’s set the mould for a decade, but by the end of the 1990s, the genre was bordering on the puritanical. With There’s Something About Mary (1997) opening up doors to the outrageous, American Pie was a return to kind of single-minded chuckle-fests that perfectly captured the zeitgeist. Yet as the audience grew older and had kids of their own, their core values shifted and changed as well, with the mantle taken up by the Judd Apatows and Seth MacFarlanes of the world to continuing shocking a cross-demographic audience.

It has been thirteen years since the class of East Great Falls graduated high school and attempted to lose their virginity before embarking on the adventure of their lives. Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) have fallen into a sexless rut of a marriage, hampered by their young son. Returning to their home town for a reunion, they spy a chance to rekindle their romance. They reconnect with Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Oz (Chris Klein), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and of course, Stifler (Seann William Scott), all finding that their lives aren’t exactly where they thought they would be.

American Pie: Reunion, known in the US simply as American Reunion, is a film at war with itself. What was remarkable about the original American Pie was its ability to balance genuine emotion and a lovable set of characters off against some fairly gross-out material. It was, after all, the film that introduced us to pie fornication and flute onanism. American Pie: Reunion sets the tone early, as  both Jim and Michelle try to masturbate, but the whole thing ends up in blood, sweat and tears. Yet it struggles to maintain this spirit, perhaps instantly recognising that what was shocking in 1999 is not going to be the case in 2012. At the same time, writers/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (of Harold & Kumar fame) try to force nostalgia out of the same material, often cutting the comedy dead for sentimentality.

American Reunion © Universal Pictures

For every bit of Stifler’s archaic fecal matter, there are a few genuine belly laughs to be had, including a gag about the sexuality of the lacrosse team. Here Hurwitz and Schlossberg tap into some of their rapid-fire Harold & Kumar insanity, which the film so desperately needs to remain fresh and relevant to modern audiences. It is terrific to see all of the cast together for the first time since American Pie 2 (2001), and it is surprising how much we may have actually missed the interactions between Kevin, Oz and Stifler. The expansion and role reversal of Eugene Levy‘s character may be worth the price of admission alone, and his interactions with frequent co-star Jennifer Coolidge (as Stifler’s Mum) are as uncomfortable as they are amusing. Yet this too is indicative of the folly in trying to give a huge ensemble cast equal dues.

It’s one of the film’s ironies that in its attempt to explore the idea of a group’s inability to move on from the past, the film becomes trapped there too, not so much revisiting as recreating past glories in a misguided attempt at nostalgia.

American Pie: Reunion is released in Australia on 5 April 2012 from Universal.