ICYMI: Zoë Tomalin on American Pie
Comedian, writer, producer and Edinburgh International TV Festival 'One to Watch' Zoë Tomalin takes a trip back to 1999 and immerses herself in teen comedy American Pie
For those of you who haven’t seen it, American Pie (1999) is a movie about a group of teenage boys who make a pact to lose their virginity before graduating high school. It’s set pre-Reddit so the guys have to meet up in person to discuss their misogyny, which is really wholesome.
This film passed me by because I was a teenage edgelord who thought watching mainstream movies carried the risk of making me likeable. I haven’t stopped being an edgelord – it’s just now I’m an adult millennial, the edgiest thing I can do is enjoy a problematic 90s sex comedy.
My expectations of this horny juggernaut were mixed. Since it’s a comedy classic, I assumed that the script was going to be jam-packed with gags… but that every single one of them was going to be dripping with proto-incel loathing for hot blonde girls.
I was totally wrong.
American Pie isn’t just a good comedy film, it’s a radical statement about how sex doesn’t exist and losing your virginity is an act of pure spectacle for the benefit of others. OK, hear me out.
In the final section of the film, the main virgin boy – a sentient Weezer song called Jim – blows up about his group’s obsession with getting laid:
"I am so sick and tired of all this bullshit pressure. I’ve never even had sex and already I can’t stand it. I hate sex! And I’m not going to stand around here busting my balls over something that, quite frankly, isn’t that important."
By the end of the movie, all the protagonists reach this realisation: that the dick jokes, the constant pressure to 'do it', and the speculations about which baked good best replicates the texture of a vagina, ARE 'sex', not the physical act of intercourse. Gyrating on top of another person is revealed to be just another unmagical diversion from the screaming black void of adult life. LOL!
This realisation that sex is just a weird social construct is very similar to the experience of graduating high school, right? Suddenly all these structures of unchallengeable power that have kept you in check for years are unmasked to be… just people saying stuff.
In this way, American Pie is a truly great coming of age film. It explores the existential mindfuck of realising that without the disciplinary forces of childhood – teachers, parents, Stifler – you have to create your own emotional infrastructure to survive day-to-day existence. Also a guy jizzes in a beer that another guy drinks by accident which is pretty funny.
Having said all this, the film does make light of a sex crime which gets a woman deported. I thought I’d wait until the middle of the article to say that, because it might prejudice you against American Pie, a film which I apparently now stan unreservedly.
Jim secretly films and livestreams Nadia, the beautiful 'Czechoslovakian chick' from school, changing in his room, and invites all his sick little forum buddies to watch. Horrible and illegal. But when Jim gets to his pal’s house to watch the stream, Nadia starts jerking off. Urged on by his fellow sex criminals, Jim runs back to proposition her. But uh-oh! He’s accidentally streaming to the whole school, who are now rooting for Jim to lose his virginity.
For me, this is the movie’s central image: virginity as a performance of entry (do not, ever, pardon the pun) into adulthood, which is solely to please an imagined audience of peers, and has nothing to do with actual physical sex. Indeed, all Jim does with Nadia is perform a bizarre dance and ejaculate in his underwear which, at least according to patriarchal heteronormative standards, is not proper fucking.
Oh and Nadia gets sent back to her country when her sponsor sees the secretly-filmed video because as we all know, if you’re a woman, it’s illegal to be the victim of a crime.
Despite this, I really enjoyed American Pie. Not only did it coin the term MILF – a diagnosis of human sexuality so influential that Stifler’s Mom stands beside Sigmund Freud – it’s also a lot of fun. And if you don’t like it, it does feature Alyson Hannigan talking about putting a flute in her vagina, so you can always imagine, as I did throughout, that it’s just a deranged piece of Buffy fanfiction.