MOVIE REVIEW: American Reunion


There's a throw-away joke made by the 18-year-old played by Ali Corbin when she emotes "I love classic rock." to a 1990s pop tune playing on Jim Levenstein's radio in American Reunion, the triumphant return of our favorite East Great Falls, Michigan graduates from the American Pie franchise.  In a way, the passing joke cuts two ways.  In one context, it's a sample of what the kids of today think of the not-to-distant past with ignorance.  In a world of instant gratification and endless connective technology, the youth of today "get off" with pop humor and comedy differently thanks to the likes of Judd Apatow, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Hangover films.  The envelope has been pushed way past where 1999's American Pie set the bar thirteen years ago.  Call it desensitization, but those films have become tame by today's standards.  Like the formerly edgy grunge rock and alternative artists like Pearl Jam and Dave Matthews Band playing on oldies stations, American Pie has become a movie version of "classic rock."  On the other hand, in another context, everyone loves "classic rock."  The genre has its rightful timeless place because it was good when it came out and stayed in our hearts ever since.  It was good enough to achieve "classic" status and not be dismissed and forgotten.  In a big way, that's the American Pie franchise as well.  It can strive to stay current, but it really belongs as an appreciated time capsule to a different generation.

That being said, American Reunion works for both of those scenarios.  The gags try to modernize and push the envelope, but they can't match the present.  They are predictably the same, yet, at the same time, those laughs are what we love and expect.  The movie's behavior, attitude, and tone are what make it pertinent enough for sequel thirteen years after the first.  Few movies have sustained their appreciation and style as long as this.  The franchise has a become a classic for its audience and there will always be a place for "classic rock," even the movie version of it.

American Reunion celebrates the random 13th year high school reunion of the Class of '99 back in Michigan.  Jim and Michelle (Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan), who we last saw getting married, are new parents coming home to stay with the now-widowed Jim's Dad (Eugene Levy).  Social networking has kept them connected to trophy house-husband Kevin (Thomas Ian Nichols), who's planning the big weekend.  Oz (Chris Klein) had left for the bright lights of Los Angeles to host a NFL show, compete on a Dancing with the Stars knock-off, and date a supermodel (Katrina Bowden).  Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) has traveled the world and Stiffler (Seann William Scott) is trying to hack it as a temp in the business world.  All are back in town to reconnect and run into plenty of old friends (like the MILF guy John Cho), new friends (like ugly duckling-turned-hottie Dania Ramirez), and former loves (in the form of Vicki and Heather played by Tara Reid and Mena Suvari).

The wrinkles to the story come from the baggage each character brings with them and how times have changed.  Fame is getting to Oz and his girlfriend is too much.  He's jealous of seeing Heather with another man (Jay Harrington).  The happily-married Kevin can't help but feel the heat and temptation of his old feelings for Vicki when he's around her.  Stiffler wants to keep on partying with a crowd that has all grown up and moved on.  Jim's Dad is wondering if he should get back into the dating game.  Finch continues to seek a path in life.  Finally, Jim and Michelle haven't had the same "Say my name, bitch!" spark since becoming parents.  To make matter worse, an all-grown-up high school student neighbor (Ali Corbin) that Jim used to babysit has a crush on him, sparking the ire of her jock boyfriend (Chuck Hittinger).  Of course, in what's supposed to be a fun weekend, chaos ensues in every conceivable way, culminating with a reunion night of finishes and a few leftover surprises. 

Have we seen these types of gags and situations before?  Sure, we have.  Are they anything new or groundbreaking?  No, not at all.  Is it all funny and does it still work for what it is?  Absolutely.  American Reunion should be accepted more as an opened time capsule more than the trailblazer it used to be.  It's true that thanks to The Hangover and Judd Apatow trends of the last decade, the comedy landscape has evolved from where American Pie operated.  Written and directed by the Harold and Kumar series team of Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, the prerequisite levels of nudity, gross-out humor, and shock value are all here.  Much credit should be given to every single member of the original cast returning, right down the minor character cameos like The Sherminator (Chris Evan) and Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth).  The ensemble has aged well and everyone is having a great time.

If anything, American Reunion is adding a little bit of surprising depth to its well-worn trail while retaining its R-rated tendencies.  This latest edition of the American Pie franchise is the most John Hughes-iest of the series.  There are really satisfying moments of heart to match all of the comedy and they effectively add to the experience.  Even though this is a huge ensemble, the deepest relationship in the series has always been between Jim and his dad.  It's great to see Jason Biggs reverse roles this time around and coach Eugene Levy up a bit.  The feelings of nostalgia and fun are undeniable.  By the way, stay a bit into the end credits.  If this franchise has become the movie version of "classic rock," then call me stuck in the past with a new favorite preset on the dial.  Just wait, some kid (likely my little brother's girlfriend, she knows who she is) will read this and ask me "Wait a second, where is there a dial on Pandora, iTunes, or Spotify?  I don't see a knob on my smartphone."  Face palm and eye rolls with follow.  Once again, ignorant youth strikes again.

LESSON #1: SOME THINGS CHANGE-- High school reunions bring out the transformations in people.  Many people go out of their way to look successful, both physically and personally.  They have moved on from the person, clique, and stereotype they were in high school and have become seemingly successful adults.  Even if it's an act, the plan to do something with themselves is in progress.  But then...

LESSON #2: BUT THEN SOME THINGS DON'T CHANGE-- You know what I'm talking about.  For as much as people will change in the decade-plus since high school, some guys and gals will never grow up.  They are caught in the past and constantly strive to relive "good old days" and fight the fade of youth.  The same can be said for that old hometown we all have.  Some things change there and some things don't.

LESSON #3: EVERYONE NEEDS A DICK-- He may be a first-class asshole, but Steve Stiffler is wise and having him around can be useful.  You'll see.

LESSON #4: BEING TRUE TO YOURSELF-- Whether you've change since high school or haven't, the important thing is that you are true to yourself.  Don't pretend to be something you're not.  Don't change if you don't want to.  Accept the role you've made for yourself, whatever that may be.

LESSON #5: FINDING HAPPINESS IN ADULTHOOD-- No matter what does change, what doesn't change, or how true you are to yourself, the most important thing when moving from youth to adulthood is finding happiness.  Things might not have turned out the way you dreamed or planned.  We all have "woulda-coulda-shouldas," but the important thing is that you find something or someone that makes you happy.  I think everyone, not just our American Pie characters, feels a sense of that when they go from being a student to a working adult, with or without college.  They have to grow up and they have to find a way to be happy.