Sex on the silver screen: This one time at band camp

Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - 5:11pm

Universal Pictures

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NOSELL

“American Pie”: a quintessential high school movie, corny and horny. The film follows four high school boys — Jim (Jason Biggs, “Orange is the New Black”), Oz (Chris Klein, “Just Friends”), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas, “American Dad!”) and Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas, “The Rules of Attraction”) — determined to lose their virginities by prom night. Of course, this leads to antics and shenanigans, not the least of which includes Jim’s dad (Eugene Levy, “Schitt’s Creek”) walking in on Jim, balls-deep in a home-baked apple pie.

This film is ridiculous, in mostly a good way. The humor is cheap and sophomoric, the characters are shallow and exaggerated, the writing is predictable. A perfectly thoughtless film, with many of the same problems as “40 Year Old Virgin.” Themes of misogyny, sexual objectification and loss of virginity as an honorable masculine conquest underlie all aspects of “American Pie.” In fact, Jim’s pie-netration is provoked by a comment made by Oz, that oral sex feels “like warm apple pie.” Given the clear similarities between “American Pie” and “Virgin,” I thought I’d add to my analysis the dimension of character development by watching “American Pie 2.”

The second film of the franchise is perhaps cornier and more predictable than the first. Set one year later in the summer after their freshman year, the four boys and rich jerk Stifler (Seann William Scott, “Lethal Weapon”) head up to a rented lake house to make this a summer to remember. At the end of the first film, we left Jim single and stuck on exchange student Nadia, his ‘one-that-got-away.’ Kevin had broken up with his prom date and first-time, Victoria (Tara Reid, “Scrubs”). Finch slept with Stifler’s mom (Jennifer Coolidge, “Legally Blonde”) on prom night and was still reeling from this electrifying sexual awakening with a more experienced woman. Former jock Oz and Heather (Mena Suvari, “American Beauty”), the girl who subdued him, resolved to stay together during their freshman year (fun and relatable for the Ann Arbor residents reading: Heather goes to Michigan, and Oz goes to State!).

At the beginning of “American Pie 2,” we pick up precisely where we left off. No one has changed or matured, though Victoria “got hot.” Finch and Jim are still stuck on their respective women, and Stifler will still try to seduce anything with a pulse.

There’s one key scene in “American Pie 2” which goes beyond the bumbling mundanity of adolescent sexual exploration. The five boys are painting a house in order to make the money to pay for their lake house rental. When the two female residents of the home exit hand-in-hand, Stifler decides they’re lesbian. The possibility being so arousing, Stifler breaks in at the first chance he gets to confirm his suspicion. The proof is in the dildo, or so he thinks. The women return and discover Stifler (along with Jim and Finch who entered to retrieve “the Stifmeister”) hiding in a closet. After being asked to touch one another, the women have a better idea: “You go, we go.” For each physical act the boys wanted to see, they must first perform it on one another. If Stifler wants to see the “lesbians” fondle one another, he must first grab Finch’s ass. Jim and Stifler must kiss (passionately) before the “lesbians” will do the same. The straw that breaks the camels’ backs: a hand-job, which Stifler was prepared to receive but his brothers-in-arms were not prepared to give.

This scene is loaded, so let’s break it down. To begin, the male heterosexual fetishization of female homosexuality is drenched in double standards and patriarchal eroticism. Beyond misogyny, I’m not sure what to make of the pressured manipulation of sexuality for sport. The women, speaking out of earshot of the boys, decide to “mess with them” by proposing a trade of homosexual favors. While the women willingly touch one another for the boys’ pleasure, the boys very unwillingly do the same to one another.

Sexuality is a part of someone’s identity, and is thus not a toy. While a surface read might yield a positive interpretation, that the film shows empowered women exerting socio-sexual dominance over men, a closer look reveals a troubling disregard for consent and disrespect for personal sexual preferences. Yes, the boys already violated the women and their right to privacy by breaking and entering, but I’m not sure if that crime warrants this punishment. Either way, “American Pie 2” engages in deeply troubling and still relevant sexuality-bending in a non-enthusiastic, barely consensual setting. This is something to think about, as Hollywood exerts a notable influence over greater American culture.

All in all, “American Pie” films aren’t terrible. They’re cute in a corny way and the boys all seem to end up alright. While women are often treated like sexual objects, the aforementioned female characters are slipped a bit of agency under the table by the end of each film. Heather, Oz’s girlfriend, is likely the most self-assured and independent woman in either film, and I commend the producers for not shaming her self-assuredness. Independent women are not the cornerstone of “American Pie” films, though female characters retain sexual agency through consent. Female sexuality is not necessarily shamed in these films as it often is in society.

“American Pie” and “American Pie 2” are funny and less holistically offensive than “40 Year Old Virgin.” The characters are shallow and unoriginal, and their actions less than mature; they behave similarly to a handful of high school friends I had, for better or worse, giving the films a reflective quality. The troubling “lesbians” scene isn’t helped by the film’s final scenes, in which the two women show up unannounced to Stifler’s end-of-summer party and sleep with him.

It is important for the comedic director to remember that Hollywood is a powerful suggestive tool. The American subconscious is hyper-focused on big media, and always has been. Whether big media takes the role of “American Pie” or Fox News/CNN, the American mind seeks ethical instruction from idols on screen. Let our media reflect inclusive values and prioritize ethical conduct. The funniest scenes in “American Pie” were those utilizing classic bathroom humor, and those laughs came at the expense of no one.