I was going to title this post, “American Pie Ruined My Life”, but that’s not fair. The obvious reason I’m writing about the movie’s influence over one of my most regrettable life decisions is because the – hopefully – last installment of the AP franchise, “American Reunion” releases in theaters today. Everything about the movie – from stills to .gifs to trailers to exclusive clips to promos to press events to games, tweets, and reviews – indicates the movie is a depressing farewell.Some would say it’s an unnecessary closure to the series. Someone out there determined that we’ve been attached to these characters and their storylines, and that those ‘fans’ won’t rest until they see loose ends tied up nice and neat. I’m one of those people who saw a potentially promising tour-de-force (yeah i said it), limp and stagger and fumble through 13 years. In this article, I’m going to examine where the franchise derailed and provide how it could’ve been a better (and possibly the best) comedy franchise.
Why? Why do you care? Why should I care? Here’s why. (SCROLL DOWN TO THE TRIPLE LINES IF YOU WANT TO SKIP WHY THE MOVIE MATTERS TO ME)
INT. JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY – SHRIVER HALL – NIGHT – SPRING 1999
I was an 18-year-old freshman with a 20-year-old freshman girlfriend who reminded me of Cameron Diaz. Though I still hadn’t declared a major, I was on the Economics track, one that I was failing miserably. At Hopkins, you didn’t receive a GPA in your first semester, a tactic to ease the midns of first year students so they wouldn’t off themselves. I would later find out that I nailed a 1.44 GPA in the second semester, which is a solid D+. Sh*t happens when you discover sex.
As we sat in the Shriver Hall auditorium, someone took the stage and began throwing merchandise into the crowd – condoms, socks, etc – all with the ‘American Pie’ logo. As a catholic high school graduate, I was beside myself. This kind of thing just didn’t happen. At all. Ever. Then the lights went down and the porn-ish soundtrack kicked in…
Ninety-five minutes later, I wanted to watch it again and again and again. It appealed to me on a personal level. It spoke to me. I didn’t just relate to the characters, they were fictionalized capsules of my real life friends and family. It was as if someone followed me around my junior and senior years in high school and took notes.
That summer, after some discussion with my father (a doctor), my mother, my girlfriend (who wanted me to become a pediatrician), and many others, I decided that I should switch to a pre-med track. Because that’s normal, going from a less difficult major that you’ve flunked to an incredibly more difficult major based on the thought that doctoring is in your DNA. Yet, AP stuck with me. I had the famous pie scene aftermath with Jim and his Dad as my desktop wallpaper. I downloaded songs from the soundtrack via Napster. I visited the official site almost every day. And, I saw it again when it hit theaters.
I couldn’t get over how much the movie paralleled my own life. I thought, I could do this. I know this. I can write this. So, I searched online to find out how to go about writing a screenplay. And I began to write. Over the course of the following school year, I found myself gravitating more and more to the screenplay and less to my schoolwork.
My girlfriend dumped me late in the first semester of my sophomore year. Consequently, my writing suffered as my mind was consumed by depression, anger, and confusion. My GPA reflected that. Another sub 3.0 year… 2.78, which raised my overall to a 2.3. Not exactly Ben Carson-like numbers.
That summer I returned home, battered and bruised, emotionally, mentally and physically. I’d finally become a brother in SAE and it cost me my shoulder and my ankle – as a result I royally sucked on the baseball field, garnering a horrific ~9.00 ERA in only a couple of appearances. Things looked pretty sh*tty and I was only 19.
My escape from internally ruining myself and beating myself up was this screenplay I’d worked on, that was inspired by ‘American Pie’ and loosely based on my time in high school. I’d talked about it with a couple of friends and I even showed it to a relative who was in the biz. The feedback was it had funny moments, but it felt disorganized and poorly structured – a criticism that I’d hear over the next five or so years. Despite the mixed reactions, most people were happy to see me being productive, so I made it a goal to clean up the script.
I felt rejuvenated due, in part, to my time working at Sesame Place, an amusement park in nearby Langhorne, PA. It wasn’t the job, but the people, namely a woman (isn’t that always the case?), that turned my toxic city dump of a brain into a more respectable playground. However, there was still one more problem – I would be entering my junior year in college and I still needed to declare a major.
My first day back – a bittersweet moment since I was basically forced to quit the football team – I sat with my Academic Advisor and tried to figure out what I wanted to pursue. Econ didn’t work and Pre-Med didn’t pan out. I was at a loss. In my mind, I wanted to impress my parents and make them proud. They’re spending all this money so I can come away with a prestigious degree. I have to pick something that’s big time.
But, then the Advisor asked me what I liked to do, what I spend most of my time doing when I’m not playing ball. “I wrote a screenplay”. She then told me about a new major that would be in its first year of existence – Film & Media Studies. I could still graduate in four years with that degree if I’d take ALL English / F&M courses over the next four semesters.
I did what I always do, I said I’d think about it then spoke with my parents. Though moderately strict throughout my childhood, they always reassured me of their mantra, “Do what you like.” So, I officially declared the next day. I didn’t do research into what the average starting salary was for young professionals with a Film & Media degree. I didn’t think about the odds of actually selling a script. I didn’t consider the nearly vertical uphill climb it would be to get out of student debt and the near absolute PLATEAU most professionals in my line of work would experience in terms of titles and compensation. All I knew was I liked to write screenplays.
Looking back now, I regret it. I regret a lot of things, but declaring Film and Media at Johns Hopkins was a tremendous mistake. I didn’t know I’d need to intern for free or next to nothing for two years before a position not even remotely tied to screenwriting would come along. I did learn that if I did want to be a screenwriter, I was in the wrong city; that LA was the place and a talent agency would be my first employer. That lesson didn’t come at school, but on the job.
A part of me thinks that after a second consecutive year of sucking at Hopkins, I should’ve transferred. That kind of thinking is detrimental to one’s mental state. I mean, how far back can you trace the shoulda, woulda, couldas? I should’ve NOT gone to Hopkins in the first place. I should’ve gone to a school that was known for its English / Broadcast / Media / Journalism department. My decision to go to Hopkins was purely based on A) it was a highly ranked institution and B) I could play both sports. I didn’t think about how much it’d cost my parents and eventually me. My back-tracking, what-if line of reasoning now leads to me this, “What if I’d never seen American Pie?” or better yet, “What if American Pie had never been made?”
In either scenario, I’m not sure that I’d get into screenwriting. Impossible to know, but equally as impossible to ignore. Sure, another movie might have come along that would inspire me to take up the craft, but it would’ve come AFTER the Spring / Summer of 1999. Would I be blaming ‘American Psycho’ in the Spring of 2000 for my plight instead? What if THAT movie weren’t made, would “Memento” be my downfall? Seeing as it was released AFTER I had to declare, probably not. You can see how thinking that way can spiral out of control.
The point of this long rant is, I’m ashamed to admit that the seed for what many consider to be one of the worst lineages in cinematic history was my muse and eventually became my REASON FOR LIVING, my livelihood. Writing has become my life. It’s the reason I get up in the morning and the reason I am who I am. Over the years, my perception and opinion of the original movie has lowered, but only due to its successors.
My 10 year college reunion is in less than a month and I’m probably not going. It will only serve as a reminder of what went wrong. From what I’ve seen and heard, American Reunion will be just as much of a bummer.
Last weekend, I watched an uncensored version of the original on Comedy Central and I re-discovered why I love the film so fervently and why I got into screenwriting in the first place. This article is to take back my pride in the original release and to offer up ways the series could’ve progressed that would have ultimately transformed its reputation. Yes, it’s counter-intuitive to what I said before, but it’s a valuable demonstration that will hopefully serve as a map for studios looking to extend a film’s profitability without sacrificing quality.
AMERICAN PIE 2 (2001)
American Pie 2 lacked the ‘ticking time bomb’ element that the first one had, which was the group’s pact to lose their virginity before college. As f*cking bonkers as it sounds, I was PETRIFIED OUT OF MY MIND to go to college as a virgin. Jim’s line, “They probably have special dorms for people like us”, was something I thought as I rode in the passenger seat en route to Baltimore.
With AP2, you have to ask what drove the characters? More importantly, what was different? To me, the formula for sequel success is the movie can, for the most part, stand on its own and is not so much just a continuation of the same old bullsh*t, but more of a SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM. Something that disrupts the equilibrium.
Take, for instance, ‘The Dark Knight’ and now ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. Each of these movies has its familiar factors and players, but plays with and interrupts that familiarity. Rachel with Harvey. The Joker simply NOT GIVING A F*CK. Now, Bane – madman who separates himself from the Joker (another madman) in that he just wants to break the Batman not just playfully cause anarchy like the Joker did. They’re villains with different objectives squaring off against a hero who’s in different phases of his life. He’s not still rich Bruce Wayne who’s still coping with his parents’ death in The Dark Knight. He’s not just Bruce Wayne coming to terms with being a villain so the city can function in the Dark Knight Rises. He’s changing, the world is changing, it’s moving forward without neglecting or forgetting the past.
Crazy that I just compared a dark, grisly action thriller trilogy to a raunchy comedy franchise, right? Not so much. The same guidelines can apply and ‘American Pie 2′ is a great example of how simply extending a storyline results in a plateaued story arc that people eventually lose interest in. Some might say, the lack of depth or singular dimensionality worked to the original’s favor. True. We got these stereotypes that appeal to a broader audience; buckets that more people can fit into. But, ‘AP 2′ had the opportunity to expand and develop those personas, not just stretch them thin.
Though it came out 2 years after the first, ‘AP2′ took place the summer after their freshman year. Would it behoove the studio to give the writers and producers a little more time? Probably. Yet, there was this immense pressure to get a sequel out because from the studio’s perspective, the window of opportunity was closing. You could easily imagine an executive stating, “One more year and no one will care about or remember these characters or this story.” With the push for a sequel so intense, there are only so many options for the next installment:
1. Pull a “Back to the Future”. Pick up RIGHT where we left off in the first one. The summer BEFORE college can be bananas, with people attempting to cross more items off their ‘to do’ list prior to entering the big leagues. It could’ve also addressed the repercussions / aftershocks of what went down on prom night. Of course, BTTF ended with the plot of the sequel already in motion. There was no indication at the end of AP there’d be a sequel. Even Mena Suvari admitted to me an interview that, “none of us expected it to be successful and then we were kind of bound to do the second one.” That said, I’m the type of person to say there’s ALWAYS a way.
2. Go with the first summer back angle, but tweak.
The tables have turned and Kevin’s now in love with Vicky, who’s moved on. Happens all the time. I don’t know about you, but I would’ve loved to see Vicky turn into a complete whore. And I mean that in the most complimentary way. She popped her cherry, she’s sexually liberated, and she’s loving every moment of it. We were so used to her being this repressed girl who was apprehensive about sex in the first one that the complete 180 in the second would’ve been refreshing. And it’s not too far fetched considering she was super into Kev eating her out and then straight dumped him after boning. Plus, it’s Tara Reid for Christ’s sake – she’s a party girl and is more likeable and believable in that role. To pigeonhole and restrain Tara into this straitlaced girl who’s politely fending off puppy dog Kevin all movie is just real f*cking lame. Can you imagine a running gag where Kevin keeps finding out about or barging in on Vicky f*cking? Kick his obsession up a notch.
Oz and Heather. Sweet baby Jesus. We know now that Mena had other sh*t going on so she couldn’t commit enough time to filming but it felt forced (as you can tell from Mena’s words above). Either wait and have her film a more interesting storyline or cut her completely. This half-assed storyline of her being in Spain and them trying to connect and have an intimate time just flat out blows. It wasn’t funny and it felt like filler.
Either give them the full attention they deserve based on the first film or flip the model on its head and have Oz pull a bonehead move that will cost him the relationship and address it early on in the film. The audience most likely wants to see them together, so the creatives keep ‘em together. Why? To not upset the audience? Upsetting expectations is the impetus behind entertainment. Oz should regress to his jock – Casanova persona and team up with Stifler.
Jim, Michelle, and Nadia. Of all the storylines, this one is the most compelling. It’s a man trying to right a wrong who also overlooks what’s right in front of him. I think everyone can attest to the ‘we want what we can’t have’ arc. At the end of AP, we learn Nadia is still into Jim and have seen that Jim believes he was used by Michelle but is okay with it. Jim and Nadia provided one of, if not the greatest scenes, but so did Jim and Michelle. So, the creative team felt it was necessary to bring both ladies back for the sequel. I don’t necessarily agree with the move to bring them back.
Would anyone have complained if Jim never saw Michelle again? All signs indicated that Jim wasn’t interested in continuing anything with Michelle. However, I could see Jim striking out repeatedly at school and falling back on the sure thing, Michelle. I could also see Nadia being Jim’s Great White Buffalo – the one that got away. So, each woman’s inclusion is understandable. I would be cool with 1 scene in AP 2 in which Jim visits HER and (insert embarrassing moment that once and for all ruins any chance of dating).
Finch and Stifler’s Mom. So, this is one storyline that could’ve died with the first one. Sure, Finch can shove it in Stifler’s face whenever he wants, but for him to target her again is played out. I like the Tantric sex angle – why not use that to Finch’s advantage? Maybe he’s now a MILF hunter – exclusively banging cougars. It was 2001, so social networks hadn’t become popular yet, but it’s not outrageous to think Finch has established a network of MILFs. Throughout the film, we’d find out he’s been romantic with a number of East Great Falls high mothers. Maybe the women find out and crash the party at the end to confront him and is saved by a very precocious girl in high school? Basically, a girl version of himself but a year or 2 younger?
Stifler’s Stifler. His one trick pony routine continues in the second one (and isn’t really flipped or prodded until American Wedding).
WHERE ARE THE COLLEGE FRIENDS? You’re telling me these guys went away to school and didn’t make any friends or find new girlfriends? Understandably, it’s just one year at school, but the infusion of a new character or characters would’ve broken up the stale routine.
The best bet would be to find friends that are similar to others and threaten the closeness of the original four. Oz’s new buddy challenging Stifler. Jim’s new bud who’s just like Finch. Kev gets a gf who’s just like Vicky? The beauty of adding these new characters means new story arcs replacing the ones that fizzled or essentially have run their course.
Instead, the consensus was, “Being a sequel, American Pie 2 doesn’t retain the freshness of the original, nor is it as funny.” Fresh. Original. Funny. Where were the surprises? As a viewer, you could’ve gone into each of those scenes knowing exactly what would go down.
3. (Yeah that was a long #2) Wait ’til 2003 to release the second film and have it take place over the course of the week before graduation through Thanksgiving, when everyone comes back home to be with family.
AMERICAN WEDDING (2003)
American Wedding was WAY too soon. From Wikipedia:
“The film is notable for the absences of several of its supporting characters from the first two films, including: Chris “Oz” Ostreicher (Chris Klein), Chuck Sherman (Chris Owen), Heather (Mena Suvari), Vicky (Tara Reid), Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth), Matt Stifler (Eli Marienthal), Jessica (Natasha Lyonne), and Tom Myers (Casey Affleck). This is because the creators of the previous films noted it was near impossible to create interesting storylines for all of the main characters except Oz, who was originally going to be included but was written out due to scheduling conflicts”
I honestly don’t think anyone really cared about Matt Stifler, Casey Affleck’s character (who was a throw-in for the first 2 films. Seriously, did someone owe him a favor?), Nadia, or Chuck Sherman (another one trick pony that didn’t need to be in the second one). I think you could’ve also bailed on Kevin unless he experienced a renaissance / rebirth / rise of the Phoenix type moment in the second one or just completely goes off the deep end and suffers a self-destructive plummet that continues in the third.
So, where does that leave us? Definitely NOT with a wedding. They JUST graduated from college. If they had to release in 2003, a college send-off would’ve been more appropriate. Senior Week. Last Big Party Of Senior Year. Graduation parties back home like nuts. Maybe the final scene is at Thanksgiving when everyone’s back to see family? Instead, we’re thrust way past graduation into MARRIAGE?! I get that you were going for the trilogy and wanted to end it on a happy note, but that’s what American Reunion will be. The wedding should result from the reunion.
Band Camp (2005), Naked Mile (2006), Beta House (2007), Book of Love (2009)
The AP spin-off, straight to DVD titles are… just ridiculous and shouldn’t have been attached to the franchise in any way. Jesus Christ, Eugene Levy.
AMERICAN REUNION (2012)
‘American Reunion‘ is WAY too late. The movie releases a full 3 years after it should’ve been. Word has it there’s a cursory explanation for the delay in the movie, but until I see it, I can’t speak to it. Basically, if there were to be ANY wedding whatsoever, this is the one to do it. This is the movie where EVERYONE can return in some form. It makes sense.
In summation, the adjusted lineage looks like this:
American Pie 2 – (2003)
End of college, entering young professional life.
Vicky’s a slut.
Kevin’s gone off the deep end, self-destructive. Ends up like the character he plays in Rules of Attraction. Vicky likes the new bad boy persona.
Finch has a network of MILFs from studying around the world. Practices tantric sex. Ends up falling for a precocious girl in high school.
Jim finally has sex with Nadia but it ends in embarrassing fashion (in a flashback). Stumbles through a couple more embarrassing hook ups as he gets closer to Michelle.
Oz regresses after losing Heather, forms a dynamic duo with Stifler that fades towards the end.
American Reunion – (2009)
One last hurrah for their partying 20s, entering the ‘settle down’ stage.
Jim and Michelle have one of those webcam sites where you can pay to watch them do it.
I’m cool with Oz becoming a sportscaster and dating a model. I’d still like to see a little controversy thrown his way. Something that’s hinted at but never fully revealed.
Stifler is either trying to climb the totem pole as an IB / financial analyst or he’s still teaching gym / coaching lacrosse and almost hooks up with hot student.
Finch is an editor at a major magazine. He’s known for seducing interns. Working on a novel.
Kevin knocked up Vicky. They kept it, but aren’t together. Possibly divorced after a haphazard, eloped wedding.
Mix in a Jessica/Nadia lesbian subplot for good measure.
Sound good? Cool. Can’t wait to tell my classmates at the reunion I won’t be attending.