I haven’t seen American Pie 2 and American Wedding, but I re-watched American Pie in preparation for a piece about American Reunion last week, and found myself spending a surprising amount of time talking to people about the franchise this week. For all its crass, happy commercialism, the movies have struck a deep chord with people, particularly on the question of how they portray sexuality.
Take Michelle, for example. Everyone remembers the payoff to her endless recitations of band camp memories in the first movie: “And this one time… at band camp… I stuck a flute in my pussy!” But no one seems to remember the line that comes after it, when Jim can’t believe what he’s heard. “What? You think I don’t know how to get myself off? Hell, that’s what half of band camp is—sex-ed,” Michelle informs him. “So are we gonna screw soon, ‘cuz I’m getting kind of antsy!” It’s a fabulous inversion of stereotype: while Jim is a clueless virgin who wants to sleep with a woman by the end of high school in part to know what it feels like, Michelle’s in touch with and knowledgeable about her own pleasure. She wants to sleep with him because she knows what she likes and wants more.
That revelation’s part of what makes their circumstances in American Reunion so sad. It’s not that the movie explicitly makes the case that pornography is childish. But there’s something depressing about the fact that, after having a child, Jim’s availing himself of internet pornography and Michelle’s snuggling up to the showerhead. Given that we know how much fun they had together, it’s too bad to see them alienated from each other and the sexual happiness they found together. A failed attempt to recapture the magic results in one of American Reunion’s funnier sequences, and gives us Alyson Hannigan in fetishwear, for those of us with happy memories of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Dopplegangland.”
American Reunion also has a more jaded approach to a theme of the first movie, reciprocal oral sex. In American Pie, under the tutelage of his older brother, Kevin finally goes down on his girlfriend Vicky after months of being on the receiving end. When his friends ask him about the experience, his response is near-beatific. This time around, it’s Stifler who’s going down. Desperate to recover the glory of his high school days, Stifler’s determined to hook up with a girl the gang knew back in the day who was famous for her own talents in that department. But when he meets up with her again, she’s no longer so accommodating—if Stifler wants to be taken care of, he’s going to have to meet her needs first. Unfortunately, the movie ends up portraying cunnilingus as icky for the fellows involved rather than transformative. But the point still lands.
John Darnielle and I were talking about this on Twitter, and I think he’s right that “if ‘radical’ is a movie in which boys aren’t repelled by women’s bodies, woe is me, you know.” It’s just too bad that no other mainstream teen franchise has improved on the foundation that American Pie laid down 13 years ago.