Film Review – American Reunion
There are a lot of films I’ve been looking forward to this year. A lot of the usual suspects are on that list—The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Prometheus—but one of the more unexpected entries was the latest chapter in the American Pie series, American Reunion. This is less about expecting a good film to come out of it, and more of a personal attachment to the rest of the series. At this point you’re pretty much in or you’re out, and this film won’t do anything to sway those two camps.
The title pretty much summarizes the premise for American Reunion: it is the story of the 13th year reunion of the class of 1999 (sadly, they weren’t able to get organized for their 10th). Since we last left our characters, Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are experiencing sexual problems since having a kid, Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is bored by the routine of his marriage, Oz (Chris Klein) wants to settle down, but his girlfriend isn’t interested, Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) has disappeared off the grid, and Stifler (Seann William Scott) continues to be arrested in his development as a temp worker at a job he knows nothing about.
I would describe myself as an avid fan of the American Pie franchise. I’ve enjoyed all of the theatrical movies, but never bothered to watch any of the direct-to-video sequels, because the only character of any significance that seemed to appear was Jim’s dad (Eugene Levy). I grew up at exactly the right time so that I’m essentially the same age as the characters, so I’ve been able to relate to the franchise on a personal level. Going into the film, I was concerned by the fact it has almost been a decade since the last theatrical release, American Wedding, but I was intrigued by the fact that all the major players are back for the first time since American Pie 2. (Really, the only major one returning to the series is Chris Klein, who had previously missed American Wedding; much like Vin Diesel with The Fast and the Furious films, it seems like he has returned to the franchise that gave him his break, after this career stalled a bit.)
One of the gifts and curses of the new movie is having everyone back from the original—everyone from John Cho to Tara Reid to Natasha Lyonne—which as a fan is fun, but from a storytelling perspective is a nightmare. The film is only 113 minutes long, and when you split that up between five main characters and another dozen minor characters, everyone’s storylines are greatly abbreviated and end up being a bit shallow. This has been a challenge for the series all along, but it is exacerbated here by adding back characters and having to give an update on every character’s backstory. This is the exact problem Arrested Development is trying to solve by having a new season of the show before the movie finally arrives. To make things even more complicated, the film adds a storyline about Jim being reunited with the girl next door whom he used to babysit, who just happens to be turning 18. That brings another set of characters connected to her.
There is a lot of ’90s nostalgia going on in the movie. Not just because the characters reminisce about that time in their pasts, but also because the filmmakers do a good job of setting the mood musically. The film features a lot of throwbacks to help get you in that mood again, with classic songs from groups like the Spice Girls, Boyz II Men, and Wreckx-N-Effect. While I can’t find any overlap, the soundtrack feels like it was straight out of the original…with bands like Lit, that have had their music previously used in the series.
To me, there have always been two sides to the American Pie franchise. The more obvious top layer is the shock comedy, and that is still present, but not quite as hilarious this time through. Underneath that, there is a layer of heart that has endeared the franchise to me. Sure, the characters do a lot of dumb stuff and get into a lot of trouble, but usually at the core of it they are doing these things out of good reasons. The characters may be misguided, but eventually they all come around.
After all of this, it might sound like I didn’t enjoy the film, and that isn’t true. I probably would rank it last among the theatrically released American Pie movies, but it is still an American Pie movie. Call it a blindspot or weakness; I genuinely enjoy the characters and I enjoyed getting updated on them. It was like reconnecting with an old friend. It felt comfortable. This film won’t be the funniest film of the year or on anyone’s top 10 list, but if you are like me, then you probably will enjoy it—if not, this won’t be the one to turn you around on the series.
Final Grade: B-