In film, what is American? Hollywood creates sweeping portrayals of America that range from sacrificial valor in films like “The Patriot” to discomforting tragedy in films like “American Beauty.”
Then there’s the “American Pie” film series.
Created in 1999 by Adam Herz, the original film launched the outrageous franchise, including three sequels and four spin-offs. The most recent installment, “American Reunion,” follows the story of the original characters as they prepare for their 13-year high school reunion.
The film pays homage to the original in full, awarding its fans all the old quirks, including Stilfer’s colorful but limited vocabulary, Oz’s good looks but not-so-good moves and Jim’s gratuitous amounts of nudity that put softcore porn to shame.
While “American Reunion” did have the audience at the Pearl Theater whooping with laughter at a screening last Thursday, April 5, its poignant nostalgia outweighs its comedy. There is nothing more iconic than Jim’s awkward pep talks about sex with his father, a true American experience.
For the first time, however, Jim offers his own father advice. The true beauty of the film comes from two realizations: The first is that getting advice from parents will never stop, no matter one’s age. The second is that parents are human. They once partied, drank, smoked, danced and yes, had raunchy, banging sex. Like it or not, many of them still do any and all of these things.
The franchise is about growing up through the eyes of sex, and it explores everything revolving around sex that many feel every day. Angst-filled questions like “when will I lose my virginity?” or “why is everyone else having sex?” or “when is ‘too old’ for sex?” sometimes define us, and are explored with the perfect balance of comedy and heart in the films.
Beyond sex, the film tackles issues like the loss of loved ones, the fear of not being successful, the dread of not having friends, the questioning of relationships, and the changing of friendships.
“It made me feel the need to value the time with my friends,” senior anthropology major Krystal Jones said at the screening.
Other audience members did not receive the film as warmly. But whether the students enjoyed the film or not, there was no better place to screen it than the Pearl. The song on which the franchise title is based was written in Philadelphia and first performed at Temple.
Don McClean, who wrote it, told the New York Times in November 2011 that he performed it while opening for Laura Nyro.
One cannot discuss the films without addressing this iconic anthem. One website, appropriately titled understandingamericanpie.com, cites historian David Halberstam’s book “The Fifties” in order to interpret the complicated lyrics.
“In that era of general good will and expanding affluence, few Americans doubted the essential goodness of their society,” Halberstam said in his book. “After all, it was reflected back at them not only by contemporary books and magazines, but even more powerfully and with even greater influence in the new family sitcoms on television. They were optimistic about the future.”
Though its balls-out – no pun intended – vulgar humor may paint a poor American portrait, the film gives college students, including senior Penn State energy engineering major Ian Fleming, this similar optimism.
“The film is American, because it [teaches us] that you can always seek to improve your present condition,” Fleming said.
While seniors like Fleming were only 9- or 10-years-old when “American Pie” was first released, some got teary eyed as they recalled that time in the best way possible. They sang along to the ‘90s music played at the end of the film. From the Verve Pipe to Blink-182, these songs define a generation that is moving onto the next phase of their lives. That is what “American Pie” is all about.
As the characters reunite for the reunion at the film’s conclusion, Semisonic’s “Closing Time” plays in the background. All are reminded that “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
Matt Flocco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.