Back at Stifler's
Early in American Pie 2, after the gang from the original installment has returned to their home town following a year away at college, the boys find themselves facing another teenage booze fest when Jim (Jason Biggs) remarks, “Here we are, back at Stifler’s house.” Stifler (Sean William Scott), of course, is the filthy rich, obnoxious party boy who throws these shindigs. Jim’s comment is supposed to evoke, like, some inevitable sense of return, of confinement, or the lads’ frustration at finding themselves back in the same small town, living with their families after a year away. At the end of American Pie the guys were all bright-eyed and looking forward to their college and adult futures, even while they were a little bit nostalgic for their high-school past before it was even over. We presume, then, as this is what they expected, that they have returned from freshman year older, wiser, and more mature. That this is why they seem just a little bit maudlin at being “back at Stifler’s.” Hardly.
The guys haven’t changed one bit. Stifler is still Stifler—but we couldn’t really expect him to change, if for no other reason than the character is the “comic” center of both films. Jim is stuck in his I-am-such-a-loser, I-can’t-get-no-pussy, I’m-terrible-in-the-sack routine. Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is haughty and pretentious, this time waxing on about Tantra and conserving one’s energies, rather than about mochaccinos and how “ladies” are like fine wine. And Kevin (Thomas Ian Nichols) is still just plain clueless about everything. Oz (Chris Klein) hasn’t changed much either, but this is one of the American Pie 2‘s few good things. Oz stays true to girlfriend Heather (Mena Suvari), even while she is summering abroad. At least we don’t have to witness some “guy can’t keep it in his pants, loses girlfriend, realizes his stupidity, woos and wins girl back” bullshit.
The girls may have changed over their first year of college, but we don’t really know. With the exception of Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), we don’t see too much of the girls from the first film. Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) is back, but her prominent place in the story only shows the shortcomings of her atrocious “Eastern European accent.” Neither Vicky (Tara Reid) nor Jessica (Natasha Lyonne) has much to do in the film. The two girls were the real stars of the first film in my book, and their lack of screen time in AP2 is a real disappointment. For the most part, the girls in AP2 are merely background for the antics of the guys. Or worse, they are mere objects of the boys’ juvenile sex drives; as in Stifler and Co.‘s constant obsession with potential lesbians and lesbian sex in their midst. One of the good things about American Pie was that the girls were ultimately the ones in control; they called the shots, they decided if and when the boys would have sex, and they were often just as confused and nervous about all this sex stuff as the guys. In American Pie 2, however, the girls are mostly shuttled off to the sidelines. Even when a girl does have a central role in the story, as in the continuing relationship between Michelle and Jim, she has decidedly less power over/control of the situation than she had the first time around. Perhaps we should consider the girls lucky, though. In their central absence all we are left to witness is the boys constantly talking about and engaging in (with various disastrous results, of course) jerking off.
The lack of any girl power, or even any real girl presence, in AP2 contributes to a ratcheting up of the boys’ piggy behavior as the film tries to out-do its own previous gross-out humor. As gross as American Pie sometimes got, there was a certain naivete, even innocence, to the boys stupid hijinks. In the scene from American Pie there was something sort of cute and kind of innocent about a boy so desperate to know what intercourse was like that he would be willing to screw a warm apple pie. Even Stifler’s slipping Finch laxative to embarrass him in front of the whole school seemed like a generally harmless prank. In AP2 Stifler getting pissed on, and Jim accidentally super-gluing his hands to his dick and a porno tape while masturbating are the general level of humor. Nothing much “innocent” or even “sort of cute” about this film.
So the guys haven’t changed much from their high school days. If anything, they have just gotten ruder and more stupid. And so has the franchise. In the first film while the boys were trying so hard to get laid they at least learned a few things about sex, about gender relations, and about the importance of friendship. In American Pie 2, however, they learn nothing, other than, perhaps, the personal pleasures of narcissism—it’s all about the boys and their dicks. Not only is this film far less smart than its predecessor, its repetitive to boot. Even though AP2 takes place at a beach house in Grand Harbor, MI, that the guys have rented (the answer to their frustration at being “back at Stifler’s”), the general trajectory of the film is exactly the same as the original. This time it’s Jim instead of Oz that learns the value of true love, and falls right into it. There is the inevitable end of summer/post-prom mega-bash that miraculously solves all the previous crises. Kevin’s older brother is even back to impart the wisdom of his years; this time leading Kev not to some secret sex manual but to the beach-house solution to the gang’s frustrations. And, of course, Jim’s father (Eugene Levy) is back, only more so. What made Jim’s dad relatively funny in the first film were his bumbling attempts to be a “good” and informative father, and his habit of inadvertently turning up at precisely the wrong times. When he is always bumbling around and seems to turn up at every turn, as he does in AP2, his shtick gets decidedly less funny.
American Pie has, in the two short years since its release, already become something of a classic of teen comedy. It offers a relatively trenchant analysis of teen life, their social mores and sexual anxieties at the end of the 1990’s, rather something like The Breakfast Club “spoke” to me and my high school peers in the late 1980’s. Of course, John Hughes never made a sequel to The Breakfast Club. Wise decision.