Fifteen years ago this week, American Pie revived the unfortunate genre of the teen sex comedy, dormant since the early-to-mid '80s, and introduced some very outlandish ideas to impressionable 13-year-olds like myself. I'm not saying there was ever a time that I really thought inviting a foreign exchange student over to study would lead to an impromptu masturbation session/strip-show broadcast over the internet, but it did seem more plausible in 1999.
Writer Adam Herz notoriously submitted his script to studios with the title "Untitled Teenage Sex Comedy That Can Be Made For Under $10 Million That Most Readers Will Probably Hate But I Think You Will Love," a naked acknowledgement of American Pie's emphasis on titillating formula over anything remotely realistic. The movie plays out just like a blockbuster action film, except it crowbars in nudity and gross-out moments rather than gunfights and explosions.
American Pie's devious ploy, which separated it from its 80s forebears like Porky's and Revenge of the Nerds, is that it mixes in some dramatic teen romance material to try and make things feel more authentic. Sure, this is a movie where a kid gets deflowered by his friend's mom on a pool table, but we're also actually supposed to care about the consummation of Oz (Chris Klein) and Heather's (Mena Suvari) romance. Herz's brilliance was to recall the implausible, boob-filled nonsense of Porky's but cross it with Dawson's Creek. Here are some of the lessons it taught an excited pubescent audience that didn't know any better:
If a Girl Is European, She's Probably Horny
Shannon Elizabeth's performance as Nadia the exchange student defies description. Because she's from Slovakia and speaks with an exaggerated Eastern European accent, this means that she is both ridiculously stupid and some sort of hyper-sexual robot whose response to being left alone in Jim's (Jason Biggs) bedroom to change is to remove her bra and begin masturbating to porn magazines. When Jim enters, he's invited to strip for her. They've barely even had any dialogue together at this point—the sole basis for all of Nadia's behavior is just that she's foreign.
Someone's Response to the Demand "Suck Me, Beautiful" Isn't to Pepper Spray Them
Early on in the film, Oz is hanging out in a car with a college student studying postmodern feminist thought, and after spouting a couple corny lines about warm spring rain, he casually says "Suck me, beautiful." Now, the film treats this request with the derision it deserves, but the college student just gently laughs and tells Oz to tone it down and actually listen to the girl he's talking to. She shoulda put his head through a windshield for that. "Suck me, beautiful," out of nowhere? That's a very Straight White Boys Texting move.
Seniors in High School Don't Lock Their Bedroom Doors
Of course it's silly to complain about these things because American Pie needs a bunch of embarrassing things to happen to its heroes to keep its audience entertained. But the opening set-piece, where Jim is discovered masturbating into a sock to scrambled porn in his room by his parents, is baffling when you consider he's supposedly 18 years old. He couldn't lock his door, or at the very least wait 'til his parents went to bed? The TV is in his room.
If You're Smart, You'll Get Deflowered by an Older Woman
American Pie popularized the word "MILF," referring to Stifler's unnamed mother (played by Jennifer Coolidge) who preys upon Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) when he impresses her with his taste in scotch. Even as a 13-year-old, I didn't understand if this was supposed to be appealing or not. Yes, Finch having sex with Stifler's mom serves as a comeuppance for the film's kinda-sorta villain, but the whole Graduate spoof came off creepy then and really does now. No offense to Coolidge, who is, of course, the best.
The One Thing American Pie Got Right
All four characters in American Pie lose their virginity, but the most forgettable experience is absolutely Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) and Victoria's (Tara Reid). They're boyfriend and girlfriend, they have sex on prom night, and it's a lot of quiet rustling around under the covers, some wincing facial expressions and quiet awkwardness afterwards. If that had been the whole movie, it's doubtful American Pie would have made $235 million worldwide, but unlike the films that inspired Herz's script, it at least tips its hat to the real world.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.