American Wedding (2003)


All Stifler all the time. This is the inclination, if not the fact, of American Wedding, third installment of the Weitz brothers’ lucrative gross-out comedy franchise (this time, Chris and Paul executive produce rather than direct, as they did for the first). Though the plot is propped up by its titular event, that is, the impending nuptials of Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), most all that occurs during the film’s 100 minutes or so has to do with Steve Stifler, the breakout character played with oddly beguiling verve and nerve by Seann William Scott.

By the time Stifler first appears in American Wedding, Jim has already proposed to Michelle, following three years of courtship, and endured stage one of his requisite embarrassment in front of his unflappable father (Eugene Levy), as well as a restaurant full of gawping patrons (this has to do with a blow job and the engagement ring). In planning the wedding, Jim and Michelle are determined not to invite the incorrigible Stifler, and yet when he gets a whiff of the upcoming festivities, he arrives tout suite — driving a school bus.

It’s no surprise that, unlike his fellow high school grads, Stifler has not completed college. Where Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) quotes Voltaire (“A witty saying proves nothing”) and boasts a degree from NYU, and Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is headed to law school, Stifler is coaching high school football, near-replicating himself in grunting brutes who repeat everything he tells them as if it’s the word of god; this leads to the unfunny comedy of his rage at being left out of the nuptials, then leading the team in a hopeless war cry: “Jim sucks donkey dick!”

Encounters with Stifler inspire the same responses as in American Pie (1999) and American Pie 2 (2001): Finch rolls his eyes, Kevin avoids anyone’s gaze (in fact, poor Kevin has very little to do in this movie except avoid everyone else’s gazes; better that he would have been left out altogether like his ex, Vicky [Tara Reid]), and Jim tries to smooth all ruffled feathers: “Underneath all the ‘Fucks’ and ‘Shits” and ‘Blow me’s,'” Jim suggests hopefully, “There’s a really sensitive person.” Or, as he rephrases it to Stifler, “Just try not to be you.”

Stifler takes this entreaty literally, if not seriously, when he trains his sights on Michelle’s terminally lithe sister, Cadence (blandly played by January Jones). Believing that the best way into her panties is to act the snooty boy, donning a pastelly Lacoste shirt and a lavender sweater tied round his shoulders. When briefly pressed to come up with actual conversation for Cadence, he sighs and smiles cutely, twisting in his seat: “Being smart is so hard!”

Stifler’s insufferable self-love is his special gift, of course, and what viewers love most about him: spewing filthy language, thrusting his pelvis, imagining the world is his entitled oyster, Stifler embodies a peculiar epitome of arrogant ignorance. Though he surely loves himself too much, he is convinced that all his acquaintances feel the same way: “I got style, I’m cultured,” he whines, offended at the suggestion that the crowd at a gay bar might think he’s not. “I’m sophisticated. Everyone wants a piece of the Stiffmeister.”

And indeed, at this moment, he’s proved right, when he accepts a dance-off challenge from a leather-pantsed fellow named Bear (Eric Allen Kramer) and wows ’em with his frighteningly adept sense of rhythm (to the rousing beats of “Maniac,” “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” and Duran Duran’s “Reflex,” among others). The upshot is that Stifler, in fact, wins the contest and Jim’s eternal gratitude, because his dancing prowess convinces a fancy dress designer to make a dress for Michelle (a long and uninteresting story). The scene is surely unmotivated; it is also so rowdy and so ridiculous that it’s hard not to smile at Stifler’s antics, or even his friends’ faux shocked reactions. He achieves his proper status with the gay boys and impresses his supposedly straight pals to boot (“I told you that guy wanted to fuck me,” he beams).

This scene’s seeming lack of purpose perversely makes it fit the rest of the film. Adam Herz’s third episodic script for the series is directed with a kind of appealing flailingness by Bob’s son and Jakob’s brother Jesse Dylan, a music video and commercial director who cut his feature teeth on the Meth-and-Redman zany weed romp, How High, where incoherence was more or less a virtue. You might make the same case here, except Wedding, like the previous American Pie joints, includes the sappy romance stuff, though now it’s left to Jim and Michelle to walk along the pretty beach, rather than whatever pretend-true love was blooming between Oz and Heather (Chris Klein and Mena Suvari, both moved on to other projects). For this tiresome gunk, Stifler’s actual shit-eating grin is something like an antidote, however crude and uncomfortably visceral. And in this, he feels like a one-man Final Destination 2 of sex, upping every ante in sight and soliciting serial groans.

At the same time, the gay bar scene underlines what may be the franchise’s most intriguing (which is not to say progressive) aspect, aside from the obvious conventional boundaries broken (and arguably reinforced) with regard to baked goods, Krazy Glue, and frank sex talk in R-rated comedies made with underage viewers in mind. That aspect is the series’ bizarrely fearless renditions of homosocial bonding — specifically male and specifically in relation to gay and lesbian sex (or performances of same). The boys’ sexuality is so focused through the trees of their own dense-packed desires and presumed needs that they can’t see their way of this particular forest.

Indeed, Stifler’s ascendancy encapsulates the trilogy’s trajectory — away from all things girly and deep into boys’ stereotypical interests, that is, boys (like Stifler) who are forever stuck in high school gear. All the girls all gone now, save for Michelle: AP‘s raunchy Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) is wholly disappeared, and AP2‘s lesbians-next-door are replaced by Bear’s strippers-for-hire. Arriving for Jim’s bachelor part, feather-duster-wielding maid Fraulein Brandi (Amanda Swisten) and crop-brandishing Officer Krystal (FHM cover girl Nikki Ziering), tie Kevin to a chair and blindfold him (again with the averted gaze), then hide him in a closet (ahem) when Michelle’s parents (Fred Willard and Deborah Rush) appear unexpectedly.

So much mayhem, so little time. While Jim struggles valiantly to impress he in-laws and make Michelle happy, Stifler is blithely unaware of most everything except his own rudimentary drives — to best his fellows, get laid, and be liked. Stifler is a Jackass or a Butt-head sort, an object of obvious derision (as when he has sex with the supremely wrong person, in the dark, and yes, in a closet) rather than identification. When he learns a life lesson or feels accepted by Jim and the gang (even the supposedly cherished Cadence, whose sexual language and inclinations recall her sister’s), the universe goes out of whack. But maybe that’s what’s at issue here, after all: Stifler’s childish idiocy allows you to maintain a sense of order. Thank goodness his evolution ends here.