American Wedding

The original American Pie films have aged with their audience. In the soon to be released American Reunion, the fourth and latest in the series, the cast is reunited for their ten year high school reunion. American Pie, the first of them, featured the quest of four teenage boys to lose their virginity by prom night and focused on the transition from school to adult life. It’s sequel moved a year on and showed the characters reuniting after their first year at college and finding that old relationships cannot always be continued into adult life. The third, American Pie 3: The Wedding (a.k.a. American Wedding) focuses on another great landmark for its still-young audience: marriage.

The returning cast for this third installment is smaller. Gone are Chris Klein, Tara Reid and Natasha Lyonne, among others. This is a welcome move, allowing the story of this film to be more focused than American Pie 2 and none of the omitted characters are missed.

The film opens in the now established pattern – Jim’s dad (Eugene Levy) catches him in an embarrassingly awkward sexual situation. This scene is simultaneously very funny and touchingly romantic. With a few exceptions, romance has not been a real focus of these films and is a welcome new development in the franchise. In the past the focus has often been on bedding women but now even Stifler is looking for something more. This seems fitting – the characters are older and more mature.

Indeed the weakest aspects of the film are the attempts at gross out comedy. These do not work partly because the characters are older and more mature. What works for a teenage character does not necessarily work for a character in their twenties. An early scene involving a dog and a character’s crotch feels cheap. Later on jokes involve pubic hair and excrement. The film is at its best and funniest when, like American Pie 2 there is a detailed setup allowing us to guess the outcome and enjoy the build up. Among the stand out set pieces are Jim’s disastrous bachelor party and a scene in a gay club where Stifler surprises us for the first time.

Wedding films have been done so many times before. So many times that there is very little left to surprise us. The difference here is that we have had time to get to know the characters involved. The usual wedding movie issues plague our couple here but it all comes together in the end. Predictable, yes, but good enough. Jason Biggs’ great talent in these films is to play an archetypal loser who also works as an all round nice guy. We like Jim and we like Michelle for the same reason, we’ve got to know them over the course of two films and we want them to be happy together.

Seann William Scott as Stifler starts the film off as irritating. He hasn’t changed at all and wears a particularly annoying ‘idiot’ expression on his face for large parts of the early scenes. Gradually, however, he begins to show previously unseen depths and reveals that he does in fact care about his friends and their happiness. By the midpoint of the film he has become the highlight of the film and frequently provides its best scenes. Scott is an actor of some considerable skill. For anyone with any doubts about this, watch Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales. He is the real focus of this film and carries it with ease. In a standout scene he brings a touch of brilliance to the cheapest, crudest joke in the series so far – a scene where he must eat dog shit. The material here is poor (it is clearly a token scene, the equivalent of the pale ale and champagne shower of the previous films) but pulls it off with aplomb.

Possibly the most effective aspect of the film is competition and role reversal between Stifler and Finch. With the latter, writer Adam Herz seemed unsure how to develop the character for the second movie and this resulted in an unfunny eccentric. For the third film Finch returns as a mature but arrogant friend who is still up for a laugh. Gone is the obsession with Tantra and the perpetual orgasmic moaning. But Herz doesn’t leave the characters like this. Instead he has them compete for the affections of Michelle’s sister (January Jones) in a genuinely amusing role reversal. Finch becomes the loudmouth, Stifler the pseudo intellectual.

It is genuinely funny seeing these two actors change roles and, surprisingly, this allows the two characters to grow. Finch is able to let his hair down and have genuine fun. In the past he has always kept himself at something of a distance. Stifler is able to show maturity and to realise that he too may want a relationship more like Jim’s. He is able to show his friends that he cares and to save the wedding, even though he caused almost all of the problems in the first place.

By focusing on only a selection of the original characters and genuinely developing them, this is a stronger sequel than its predecessor. It’s not perfect and some of the jokes are too cheap but it is funny, affectionate and nostalgic. For the first time we are introduced to a number of new characters including Michelle’s family, a gay pimp (Eric Allan Kramer in a standout performance) and his strippers . This helps inject new life into the film. American Wedding is a more than fitting conclusion to the story of Jim and his friends. It remains to be seen wether American Reunion can live up to its predecessors.

© Calum Campbell 2012

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