American Reunion (2012) Review

How do you guys view your high school years?  Were they your golden years, spending time with friends like they were your last minutes?  Or were you, perhaps, one of those people who were simply dreaming of getting out of town and making a new life at college?  Regardless of how you spent your time in high school or how you view that time, you were probably reserving some time to watch movies with protagonists in high school, characters who were going through the same odd mixture of emotions as you.  In all likelihood, American Pie (1999), a film about four close friends vowing to lose their virginity before graduating, was one of those movies.

This raunchy film was followed by two nearly equally raunchy sequels, American Pie 2 (2001) and American Wedding (2003).  Over this four-year stretch, filmgoers quickly embraced these characters and grew with them (if you could say that they grew up, at all).  Well, nine years after Wedding, the gang came back for the usual gross-out hijinks in the long awaited American Reunion.  For fans of the original series, Reunion offers warm nostalgia, but its reliance on the old formula causes the film to, at times, overstay its welcome.

In the film, the usual suspects (Jim, Oz, Kevin, Finch, and Stifler) regroup in their hometown for a weekend of good times before their high school reunion.  If you know the ins and outs of any movie in the American Pie franchise, you can probably guess that those good times will comprise of booze, boobs, bodily fluids, and numerous sexual blunders that seem too outrageous for reality.  That’s the typical formula for an American Pie movie.  If you don’t like it, go search for the nearest exit because the writers are not going to shake things up just for you.  There wasn’t much business to change the formula, anyway.  A film like Reunion is mostly meant to satisfy the fans of the series (those direct-to-DVD movies don’t count), so changing things up would only hurt the writer’s intentions of keeping the fans in mind.

If you haven’t seen the film, you can be relieved that Reunion attempts to be just as nasty and gleefully juvenile as its predecessors.  Like the first three films, Reunion contains scene after scene of outlandish situations straight out of an adolescent boy’s fantasies, or nightmares.  Mostly nightmares.  Despite the familiarity of the tropes the original created, the film is able to generate a few laughs here and there.  Scenes like awkward father-son conversations between Jim and his dad are well constructed and prove that actors Jason Biggs and Eugene Levy never lost the same chemistry they created in the first film.  Nothing much needs to be said about the gross-out gags other than that they’re bound to satiate the desires of fans.  Unfortunately, those gags unintentionally work against the film.

When these characters were in high school, all of the craziness that came with their lives was just accepted as the norm and was integral for successfully having good times (thanks to Stifler).  Now that they’re back for their high school reunion, and they’re all out to prove how they’ve grown from their teenage years (except for Stifler).  Throughout their constantly changing lives, Stifler is the only thing that has remained remotely constant.  So, because of Stifler’s refusal to let the past rest where it belongs, the others are dragged into his antics of immaturity and often find themselves in some sticky situations.  Now, it is very possible to make the argument that all of the gags and unlikely situations are integral to the plot and important to the development of the characters, who are meant to slowly realize that they may not have changed as much as they would have liked from their days in high school, whether they’re still awkward in social situations or have feelings still unresolved.

But, the problem is that despite all of the trouble they find themselves in, we should be rooting for them to face each challenge with a certain amount of wisdom they didn’t have thirteen years earlier.  Instead, outside forces, like Stifler, remain influences on how they act in nearly every scene.  At a certain point, one quickly loses interest in how these characters intend to grow and hopes that every mess created keeps getting worse because that’s the driving force of the comedy.  Stifler’s doings and influences may be central to the heart of all American Pie movies, but when dealing with an audience that has grown along with the characters, you can only fall back on familiar territory for so long before it begins to lose its vitality.  Additionally, it doesn’t help that most of the purpose behind the comedy in Reunion, like 2 and Wedding, seem to only try to one-up the raunchy absurdities from the first film.  It’s pretty safe to say that the first film remains untouched.

If anything, this film is mostly good for providing warm nostalgia to fans of the franchise.  Whenever we see Jim, we think of every awkward encounter he experienced, whether it involved his parents or Michelle.  Whenever we see Oz, we think of the cool and confident jock with a heart soft for his first and only love, Heather. Whenever we see Kevin, we think of the classic good guy whose older brother happened to have the answer for anything and everything deviant, and his relationship with Vicky.  Whenever we see Finch, we think of the calm, mature intellectual who bedded Stifler’s mom on multiple occasions.  And whenever we see Stifler… well, at this point it should be pretty self-explanatory.

Seeing the entire crew back together for the first time since American Pie 2, and knowing that this will be the last time we see this colorful group of characters, one can’t help but reminisce of good times had in the past as the occasion feels special.  Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, but it is best experienced in moderation.  When you allow nostalgia to take control, you disallow yourself of the ability to move on, and as these characters have realized that they must move on from their shenanigans, we as filmgoers and fans of the franchise have to move on from the immaturity that is the main component each film’s comedy.  Just like the three previous films, a substantial amount of heart permeates through the material in between moments of crudity, but that does not eliminate our need to move on, especially if the characters realize they must do the same.

So, while it is a noble attempt at a triumphant farewell, it’s unfortunate that American Reunion’s reliance on nostalgia and familiar comedic territory keep it from becoming the grand finale it hopes to be. I might not be the series’ biggest fan (the first is the uncontested superior, while each sequel declines in value), but I give the tip of my hat to every actor and actress in these four films who made these characters their career-defining roles (maybe with the exception of Alyson Hannigan after playing Lily Aldrin in the TV series How I Met Your Mother).  These were films that stood apart from many other coming-of-age films that came before them.  Granted, it may have decided to stand out in the most juvenile fashion possible, but the content was too outrageous not to generate an emotional response from each member of the audience, whether it was uncontrollable laughter or utter disgust.  I give American Reunion a score of 2 maple-leaves out of 4.  Most likely, I won’t be revisiting this film on my own volition, but I’m glad I decided to stop by and pay my respects to the teenagers these characters always will be.

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