American Pie (1999)

*. The legendary screenwriter William Goldman once formulated a rule of Hollywood that has become a kind of holy writ: NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. What he meant is that there was no way to predict what was going to be a hit. “Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”
*. It’s had not to be reminded of that bit of hack wisdom when reflecting on the mega-success of American Pie, which did $235 million box office (out of a negligible $11 million budget), and spawned three direct sequels. For what? A generic teen sex comedy (the script’s working title was Untitled Teenage Sex Comedy) about a bunch of high school boys looking to lose their virginity before they graduate.
*. I guess the best that might be said of such fare is that every generation needs its Porky’s. Young people have to go to movies and watch something other than superhero movies. Don’t they?
*. Comedy doesn’t age well. Even the most hilarious raunchy-stupid flicks from this period — Dumb and Dumber (1994), There’s Something About Mary (1998) — aren’t very funny today. Some of the humour here no longer plays as fresh. It’s hard to remember a time when MILF wasn’t a widely known acronym, with its use here being a joke that has to be explained. Or the idea of laughing at a guy tricking his girlfriend into having sex while livestreaming it over the Internet. No, that’s not so funny now.
*. A side note. Here is Roger Ebert on that scene: “When the lucky hero gets the foreign exchange student into his bedroom and she turns out to be ready for a romp, it is funny that he has forgotten and left his CU-See Me software running, so that the entire Internet community can watch him be embarrassed. It would not be funny if he left it on deliberately.” Well Roger, he did leave it on deliberately. That was the whole point. I’m not sure how Ebert missed that part.
*. But the thing is, I’m not sure any of this movie was all that funny to begin with. It’s hard to identify the laugh lines in the 2010s. Fucking an apple pie on the kitchen counter? Well, I suppose. But really, nothing about the script strikes me as very good, and it’s telling that when Eugene Levy came on board he apparently insisted on improvising his lines. Levy’s a guy who knows good material and he clearly wasn’t seeing it here.
*. Nor does the cast do much to help things along. The four horny musketeers (Jason Biggs as Jim, Chris Klein as Oz, Eddie Kaye Thomas as Finch, Thomas Ian Nicholas as Kevin) strike me as being charmless at best. Meanwhile, their girlfriends are only slightly more appealing.
*. Not as shocking today as it was twenty years ago. Perhaps even more nostalgic. I suppose most of it qualifies as being good-natured, but that’s about it. The main comic conceit is that the girls are more mature than the boys, which is a point I think everyone will have grasped in the first few minutes. But then it’s not a movie I was in the target audience for at the time, and I feel even less obliged to care for it now.

40 thoughts on “American Pie (1999)

    1. Alex Good

      I don’t know if I should be surprised it was such a hit. I mean, it was huge, and yet it’s not very good. Maybe if I was a kid I’d have thought it was funnier. I don’t know.

      1. Alex Good Post author

        I get how it would be gross-funny if it were more realistic. But the thing is I couldn’t imagine anyone mounting a pie in the first place. Even a horny teenager (and they’ll pretty much do anything). So it didn’t work for me. It just seemed like they were trying too hard to make a joke out of something that wasn’t there.


    This is one of the rare films that John Cassettes made during his problem period; he couldn’t get the rights to Richard III and improvised this on location with Elaine May and Peter Falk. If you look closely, the shark is clearly made of balsa wood and treacle.


        David Mamet was staying at the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh and wondered why the waitress thought he was German; she came up to his table and said ‘Fritz Khan?”. Only later did he realise what she was saying….

      2. fragglerocking

        Fritz Kahn was a German Jewish physician who published popular science books and is known for his illustrations, which pioneered infographics. Born in 1888 and died in 1968 so he had a good innings. The Waitress must have mistaken Mr. Mamet for him.

      1. Alex Good Post author

        Just got back from a very full brunch. Bacon. Back bacon. Croissants. French toast. Lots of syrup. Bit of fruit on the side. Thanks, but I’m stuffed.

      2. Alex Good Post author

        That’s OK, I’ll watch Tenet here. Maybe I’ll get caught up on Coronation Street. Think they’ve stopped carrying it on this side of the pond.

    1. Alex Good

      Depends where you go. A lot of store-bought pies are pretty dreadful, with cheap crusts and industrial filling. But a homemade apple pie is delicious. As is cherry and peach pie. I’m not a fan of pecan pie though. Or cocoanut cream.

      1. Over-The-Shoulder

        My grandma used to make a beautiful apple pie. It had a little pastry leaf on it and everything. Ice cream or cream or both? Stunning either way. I know my granddad had ice cream, cream and angels delight on his pie. I think you can guess what happened there.

        Pecan pie is just a bit boring. Coconut cream can go where the sun don’t shine. Blueberry pie is always nice as well, but will always be overshined by it’s cousin: the blueberry muffin.

      2. Alex Good Post author

        Totally agree. The thing about blueberry pie is that there’s just too much blueberry. Blueberry muffins are the best though.
        Apple pie needs ice cream, in my book. Some people actually eat it with cheese. Not for me.

      3. Over-The-Shoulder

        You’re right – blueberry pie should be eaten in moderation, or it can get pretty overwhelming. The perfect muffin though, with either blueberry or chocolate (or both, as my grandad would say)? Beautiful.

        I agree: apple needs ice cream, just to sooth it. But cheese?! They can go join coconut cream. Apple and cheese is an age old classic, but apple pie and cheese? That’s sinful. They just don’t work together!

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