An Observation about “American Pie: Reunion” (2012)
One of the more peculiar aspects of the american movie production system is that it can create very good products at the periphery of mainstream cinema. So while the average well-funded “blockbuster” is usually very formulaic and predictable, a lot of the sleeper hits and cult classics are not. I would argue that the innovativeness of american cinema is largely based on its ability to incorporate the lessons learned from atypical and non-formulaic hits into more mainstream productions. While I can go about which blockbusters were influenced by far more modest precursors- that is a topic best reserved for another post. This post is about how movies or movie series that became unexpected hits often end up telling us far more about the society we live in than they were intended to.
I am sure that almost every one of you has seen at least one movie in the infamous American Pie Series. However many of you might not know that the original American Pie (1999) was a low-budget shot in the dark. Indeed, most people involved in making and acting in that movie thought that it was unlikely to recover its 11 million $ budget let alone make a huge profit, start a series and jump-start the careers of many actors.
So why was the original movie and most of its major sequels so successful?
There are those who attribute the success to gross-out humor and appealing to teenage male sensibilities. However that does not explain why many other movies with similar themes and even raunchier story lines have bombed. I believe that the success of the original movie in that series (and the subsequent major sequels) is largely due to the fact the characters in that movie are far more realistic than many other similarly themed movies. Furthermore, the story lines were far closer to reality than “professional” movie critics realized.
That movie series (major sequels only) is a fairly accurate representation of the behavior, trends and attitudes of the children of white upper-middle class baby boomers over the last 13-odd years. Whether it is girls in high school controlling who gets sex, how teenagers define virginity, how long -distance relationships work or don’t work, how over the hill middle-aged women use sex with much younger guys to feel validated, using pseudo-lesbianism to get attention, awkward hookups and so on. It also showed the main characters going to good universities, working hard, trying to get decent jobs.. in other words- doing what was expected of them as they tried to join the upper-middle class as “functional adults”.
So let us turn our attention to the latest movie in that series- American Pie: Reunion (2012). Once again , it distinguishes itself from the formulaic Hollywood movie sequel by being pretty realistic. For one, neither of the four guys are happy at the beginning of the movie nor are they really happy at the end. The sappy beta ‘Jim’ character is wanking off to internet porn inspite of being married to his dream girl aka ‘band camp’ Michelle who is using a flexible shower head to get off. The intellectual Finch has a dead-end lower-management job at a big box store inspite of his intellect and education. The Kevin character is an unhappy whipped house-husband who hates what he has become. Stifler can only manage a temp job in some investment firm inspite of his family connections. Even Oz who now has the model girlfriend is less than happy with his life.
I believe that the movie accurately depicts what has happened to children of upper-middle class baby boomers. While their parents had opportunities to settle down into an acceptable and reasonably stable existence with some correlation to their ability, their kids just do not have the jobs and careers that they rightfully expected. Note that only ‘Jim’ has a somewhat stable and conventional job and only he has the one child among his four high-school friends- even though they are all in their early 30s. The rest have had some combination of short and long-term relationships with no desire to have kids. Did I mention that the movie does not have an “all problems are solved and everybody is happy” ending.
None of them wants to “grow up”, “man up” or “take one for family”.
I believe that it accurately represents the general outlook and behavior of the male children of affluent baby boomers. Most have no desire to slave away like their fathers, especially given that the previous set of rewards for such behavior are gone. Most have seen divorces and their ugly aftermath and therefore have little interest in marriage or committed long-term relationships. Most can only get jobs that are crappy, unstable or pay significantly less than they had been implicitly promised. Even the most traditional in that age group have significant distrust and cynicism about the women- including those in their lives.
Most men in that age and socio-economic group just don’t see themselves as having a stake in the future and act accordingly.
What do you think? Comments?