For many of us, high school was a time that we spent overly invested in our own adolescent lives and juvenile misadventures that (at the time) seemed to be the most mature and important thing in the world. And in some cases, the witty antics and perverted scheming of Jim Levinstein and his friends hit the nail right on the head- and especially for those of us who were going through our formative years in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
And as most movie nerds do, I used to find myself feeling seen and heard by the American Pie movies in that I related to being a suburban teenager whose attention was constantly shifting between dating way out of my league, and the constant desire to make the leap from a hormonal teenager to a grown up with everything under control. After all, these movies follow that very journey and remind me that no matter how far we get from our youth- things will never be the way we all expected them to be when we reached adulthood.
The American Pie franchise is coming-of-age saga that tracks a group of middle-class kids from their final year of high school, through their college careers and eventually their adult lives. With themes like sex, popularity, and the complications of outgrowing your childhood friends and interests- American Pie is a raunchy blend of Boy Meets World and Revenge of the Nerds, but all wrapped up in catchy 1990’s pop songs, suburban middle-American aesthetics, and over-the-top comedic representations of the typical teenagers sexual awakening.
And with a total of 9 films in the franchise- 4 being the main storyline following Jim Levinstein and his friends and the other 5 being spin-off stories following related characters in similar situations, this series is stacked with good, bad, and some forgotten entries that are still talked about today. And in today’s episode, we’re going to dive deep into this slice of americana and cover just WTF you need to know about the American Pie Franchise.
Of course, it’s difficult to talk about the American Pie movies without mentioning the clear inspiration that the filmmakers took from movies like Porky’s, Animal House, and Sixteen Candles– As, most of the themes of teenage adolescence and the struggles of growing up are deeply rooted in the story. I think every decade or rather every generation has their own versions of these themes that make their respective movies relatable. For example, while I adore most of John Hughes’ 1980’s coming-of-age fare, I also don’t have the same connection to the misadventures of John Bender as I do to the awkward birds and bees talk that Mr. Levinstein gives to his 17 year old son.
A big stand out of this franchise is the impact and legacy that the main story’s characters have had on pop culture, and of course the perverse antics that the main kids find themselves in time-after-time as a result of refusing to accept that they’re glory days are falling behind them.
And speaking of that, I think it’s time to talk about this franchise’s most iconic characters. So, let’s get into it!
Jim Levinstein: Jim, played by Jason Biggs, is our main character and for all intents and purposes is our “straight-man” or at the very least our window into this whacky and sexy world. He’s not your typical movie hero, but he is very much a heightened representation of an awkward high school kid who can’t seem to catch a break in his own story. He’s also got some of the funniest physical gags and lines of the entire series.
Michelle Flarity/Levinstein: A band-geek with an intimidating history of promiscuity, Michelle is Jim’s first lover as-well-as his eventual girlfriend and wife. She’s played by the hilarious Allison Hannigan and truly cemented her place in pop culture as the originator of this iconic line:
Steve Stifler: If there’s one name you’re likely to remember from this franchise, it’s Stiffler. Also known as the Stiffmeister, Stifler is played by fan-favorite funnyman Seann William Scott and he serves as the overly sexual jock and best friend-slash-bad influence to Jim. He’s offensive, crude, and completely unable to see himself as the failed athlete who peaked in high school, despite the fact that that’s exactly what he is.
Finch: Finch is the kid we all knew in high school who was always trying way too hard to be above the high school experience. He’s a poetic soul whose odd behavior and overly philosophical speech make him equal parts annoying and hilarious. Although he eventually finds some success in being such a try hard after hooking up with Stiffler’s mom… A lot of times.
Kevin: Ya know, I like Kevin the least. Not for any reason other than he’s the most grounded in reality which doesn’t play as well against the rest of this hilarious cast.
Oz: Some people call him Nova, As in… Casanova. Oz is a lacrosse player like Stiffler, but has the maturity of Kevin and the same awkward approach to women as Jim. He’s got some incredible moments in this franchise and Chris Klein really knows how to play this character.
Mr. Levinstein: Jims Dad played by Eugine Levy who is the only cast member from the original to reprise his role in almost every film including the spin-off movies. He’s probably my personal favorite character in these movies as he perfectly captures no necessarily what a suburban dad actually is, but more how kids SEE their parents when they’re in high school. He’s perfect. I love him.
Stifler’s mom: Played by the recently minted superstar Jennifer Coolidge- Stiffler’s mom is responsible for the term that has completely dominated the “hot mom” trope- MILF.
I honestly don’t think I had ever heard that term before 1999 when this movie was released.
Nadia: Uhhh…even if if you have never seen these movies- we all know what makes her iconic in this franchise right?
As always, there are at least 10 other hilarious characters that pop up throughout these films. There’s the Shermanator, the “MILF” guys, and how could we forget Stiffler’s annoying little brother, Matt.
Okay, we got a lot of ground to cover here, but I’m going to stick to the main 4 films for the most part, as the direct-to-video spinoff films hold almost no unique qualities that set them apart from the franchise. So, let’s kick things off with-
American Pie (1999)
American Pie was released in 1999 and this is a movie that even if you know nothing of the franchise, you almost certainly recall the iconic imagery of Jason Biggs going all in on freshly baked Apple Pie, hence the title of the movie.
The movie follows Jim Levinstein- A soon to be high school graduate who’s only goal is to lose his virginity before he finishes the school year. When Jim and his friends; Finch, Kevin, and Oz make a pact to lose their virginity at prom, the team (and their much more sexually active friend Stifler) embark on a wild ride of culinary masturbation, reputation-making rumors, and a highly unethical livestream that would go on to haunt Jim for the rest of his life.
The object of Jim’s affection, Nadia, played by Shannon Elizabeth is a foreign exchange student who seems equally as interested in Jim as he is in her. An when Jim gets the chance to have a study-session at his house with her- Stiffler convinces him to secretly tape her and broadcast the feed to his friends computer. The only problem is that the feed ends up going out to the entire school’s email list and when Nadia decides to jump Jim’s bones, everyone watches in anticipation as Jim prematurely… arrives? More than once in the span of just a few minutes.
This both destroys and sort of solidifies Jim’s reputation at school, causing him to lose hope in honoring his pact to get laid before graduation.
Meanwhile, Jim’s friends are all having issues of their own as they try their own tactics to seal the deal before graduation. Kevin and his steady girlfriend Vicky (played by Tara Reed) seem the most likely to make it happen, but not without the help of the Sex Bible- a secret student-made journal of tips and tricks to get girls to sleep with them that Kevin uses to seduce Vicky.
Finch pays off a female classmate names Jessica (played by the wonderful Natasha Lyonne) to start rumors around the school about how dynamite he is in bed.
Oz meets an interesting and seemingly uninterested girl named Heather (played by Mena Suvari) who isn’t interested in his attempts to run game, but just wants to get to know the REAL Oz. And honestly, it’s kind of the only emotional grounding that this movie has.
By the time prom night rolls around, the boys and their dates have a blowout night of fun and partying and eventually get laid. Well, I guess Oz doesn’t, but he falls in love so that’s just as cool.
Jim gets one-night-standed by band geek Michelle, Kevin has a romantic night making love to his girlfriend, and Finch gets seduced by Stiffler’s mom which is a fantastic payoff to all the tension between him and Stiffler.
The release of this film and the trailer stirred audiences and lead to the massive resurgence of raunchy teen sex comedies. This is by far the most remembered Jason Biggs performance, obviously. But it also was a launching point for the careers everyone involved as the movie made $235 million off of a budget of just $11 million. It’s a staple in my list of guilty pleasure comedy movies that would never fly in today’s world… Or would it?
American Pie 2
Now what’s an iconic pop culture juggernaut like American Pie without a second slice that reunites the core characters and ups the shenanigans to the next level?
American Pie 2 was released just 2 years after the first film and picks up with Jim, now a college freshman at the end of his school year- as his father walks in on him having a very awkward sexual encounter with a classmate. This immediately evokes the exact same discomfort as the pie scene in the first movie and reminds the audience exactly who this movie is for.
The whole story follows Jim and his High School buddies as they all return home for the summer from college and rent a beach house to send the summer partying and meeting girls. Of course this is a new setting but we can look forward to the same old situations.
Jim learns that Nadia is coming to visit him at the beach house at the end of summer and he decides to spend the weeks leading up to their reunion learning as much as he can about sex in order to redeem himself for their previous attempt to have sex. Stifler’s dumb jock persona is dialed up a few notches as he slowly starts to become a parody of himself, and Finch is focused heavily on the art of tantric sex as he leans further into the oddball poet act. Kevin and Oz pretty much stay the exact same and there isn’t much for them do in the film admittedly.
During the summer, Jim and his friends get jobs painting houses for the locals and this leads to one of the most agonizingly hard-to-watch scenes in the movie. And I mean that in a good way…
Jim attempts to have some private time “throwing the tennis ball” as his father would call it and accidentally mistakes a tube of super glue for lubricant which results in him gluing his hand to his privates and having to go to the hospital to get it removed. The scene shows Jim trying to solve the issue himself and of course making the already embarrassing accident much, much worse as the whole town witnesses the event.
And who could forget the incredible hilarious scene where Stiffler and Jim are forced to make out with each other in an attempt to get a look at some naked women who they’re temporarily infatuated with.
Jim also reconnects with Michelle to get advice on how to win over Nadia’s affection in bed and we explore the intense promiscuity of Band Camp. This all culminates in Jim choosing not to be with Nadia as he realizes that he’s in love with Michelle. And that set’s up the third film that would release 2 years later.
Oh yeah, and of course Finch gets it in with Stiffler’s mom once again.
The kids are all grown up in this third installment and we get to witness the epic task of Jim and Michelle planning a wedding while balancing their past relationships and the hilarity that ensues. By this point, Jim and Michelle are living their own lives and while still being in contact with the old gang from high school, everyone seems to be pursuing their own lives. The only exception, of course, is Stiffler. He’s a local bus driver who clearly hasn’t taken the path that his friends did. But when he shows up to crash Jim and Michelle’s wedding, it isn’t long before Jim’s perfect life starts to fall back into misadventure.
This movie is wonderful- yet slightly offensive and definitely not PC. But let’s face it, that’s what this franchise is.
Jim takes a backseat as our main character in this movie as well and the story mainly focuses on the ongoing rivalry between Finch and Stiffler. The two are fighting for the affection and virginity of Michell’s younger sister Candice (played by January Jones) and I can honestly say I appreciate that the movie dared to do something completely different from the previous two movies.
Finch and Stiffler sort of swap places as well with Stiffler taking on the false persona of a gentle and polite boy next door while Finch takes a page from Stiffler’s book and attempts to portray a bad boy with very little interest in anything but having fun and getting laid. This is a very interesting thing to witness but more than anything, it is SO F*CKING FUNNY.
Rather than having sex with pies and jamming brass instruments into their bodies, we see things like Stiffler eating dog shit to cover up losing Jim and Michelle’s wedding rings, an epic dance off in a Chicago gay club, and of course that part where Stiffler accidentally makes love to Michelle’s grandma.
For the most part it does have all the charm that the previous two films carried but it also adds a layer of emotional weight as we witness Jim, Stiffler, Finch, and Kevin learn to grow up and accept that they may have also grown apart.
And you guessed it, folks- Finch sleeps with Stiffler’s mom AGAIN.
Almost 10 years later, Jim and Michelle are parents and living their comfortable suburban life while the old gang is also seemingly onto greener pastures. Of course, with the exception of Stiffler who is still basically a loser who hasn’t accomplished much since high school. This is the perfect setting for Stiffler to relive his glory days at the reunion while his much more mature buddies do their best to survive the walk down memory lane.
This movie again has some whacky hijinx and awkward scenarios that can only happen in this franchise. It’s a genuinely solid installment in the franchise that perfectly demonstrates how uncomfortable it can be facing your past after spending years trying to escape it. I’d say this movie mostly exists to button up the story of the characters we’ve come to know and love but other than a few absolutely bonkers scenes- it’s mostly a romantic comedy in the tradition of a typical studio romp.
I do appreciate seeing Stifler’s immaturity in this movie though as we do get a mild story arc for him as-well-as him being the only people who causes anything funny to happen. Well, that and Jim’s very inappropriate night out with the little girl he used to babysit who is now graduating high school.
Probably the highlight of the movie.
And before we get into the rest of the films, which will be brief, I do want to say that it looks like a 5th installment of the main storyline is in the cards as Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, Allison Hannigan and the rest of the crew are interested in making a new entry. We can only hope that it captures the magic of the first one but in my opinion, the only way to make it work is if they return to form and dare to push the boundaries of what’s considered “acceptable” by comedy standards today. Although, I genuinely hope to see less homophobic and misogynistic material considering that a lot of these movies did not age as gracefully as we may have hoped.
Okay, lightening round. Here we go!
This one follows Stifler’s younger brother Matt as he attends band camp as punishment for a school prank. It’s basically a cheap Stiffler knockoff but it does have some fun moments.
The Naked Mile
This is another Stifler movie which takes his cousin who is more like Jim than Stiffler as he goes to college and gets in on a streaking adventure. It’s less of a story and more of a montage of naked women and beer pong.
Yet ANOTHER Stifler is going to college and is pledging to join a fraternity of bros with no distinctive personality traits. And honestly this movie is the same as the last one. The Stifler family is way too big and stupid to be the subject of so many films but Eugene Levy is always there to cheer us up.
Book of Love
The kid from The Little Rascals (Bug Hall) f*cks a peanut butter sandwich and the footage gets uploaded to YouTube… Sound familiar? This one is basically a rip off the first movie but with FAR less imagination. It serves more as a reboot than a spin off but in all honestly, I don’t hate this one. There’s something about it that feels oddly comforting.
This one just came out like in 2020 and… I hate it. It’s weirdly means spirited and also not funny at the same time. This mix makes the movie less of a movie and more of an attempt to bring ladies into the spotlight which would be awesome if it followed something more like Bridesmaids, but instead it’s kind of like one of those CW teen shows but masked as a modern sex comedy. Not a fan.
Alright my friends, when it comes to required viewing- I’d recommend watching the main films including American Pie, American Pie 2, American Wedding, and American Reunion. If you love those movies and want more, just wait for the new one.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/american-pie-wtf-you-need-to-know/