Feeling patriotic this July? Well, if there’s one thing more American than apple pie, it’s a questionable attitude toward sex — and that’s exactly what we’re serving up in our latest episode!
To commemorate the film’s 20th anniversary, When We Were Young ogles American Pie all over again. The rude and raunchy sleeper hit comedy helped launch the careers of Jason Biggs, Tara Reid, Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, Seann William Scott, and Natasha Lyonne, amongst others, with memorable turns from comedy legends Eugene Levy and Jennifer Coolidge, too.
But how does a story about four horny teen boys making a pact to lose their virginity by prom night hold up in 2019? Is American Pie still a solid laugh-and-cringe fest, or have changing sexual mores over the last two decades made its comedic prowess go limp? No flute, baked good, or suspiciously murky beer escapes scrutiny in our latest episode!
The teen sex comedy has a long, sordid history. Trust me, I delved deep into it — much deeper than I ever wanted or expected to go.
I wanted to stop. But somehow, in the heat of the moment, I just couldn’t say no.
I don’t know how to tell you what I’ve seen. I feel like I have been to war. A war fought with buttocks instead of bullets. I saw more breasts in the space of a week than I have ever seen otherwise. If you stacked up all the tighty-whitey-clad erect penises I bore witness to in those five days, one on top of the other, I could climb to the moon.
But before digging into American Pie, which was pitched as a revival of the 80s wave of raunchy comedies, it was important to get a sense of where this whole trend began, and just how low it was at the genre’s very lowest.
In 411 B.C., the Greek comedy Lysistrata was first performed. The plot concerned the women of Athens withholding sex from their husbands to motivate the end of a war. In the climax, the men are all driven mad with desire by their erections and re-draw boundaries of their territories on the body of a naked handmaid.
Movie-wise, you could argue that movies as early as the silent era were “sex comedies.” The genre was further defined in the 50s and 60s by movies that were risqué at the time like 1959’s Pillow Talk, starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson, or Some Like It Hot, with Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe.
But when it comes to teen sex comedies, all signs point back to Tel Aviv, circa 1978, and the film Lemon Popsicle, which became the highest-grossing movie ever in Israel at the time and was also hugely popular throughout Europe and Japan — popular enough to get a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Film.
The film was set in the 1950s, following three high school boys in various sexual shenanigans, trying to take the virginity of the prettiest girl and having comedic sex with older women. It spawned a whole bunch of sequels including Hot Bubblegum and Private Popsicle and was remade in America in 1982 as The Last American Virgin.That same year was the release of Animal House, brought to you by a creative team made up of Ivan Reitman, Harold Ramis, and John Landis, amongst others, starring John Belushi. It was about the struggle of a slovenly fraternity against the college dean, set in 1962. It was not billed as a teen sex comedy per se, but it did have a scene featuring Belushi spying on sorority girls during a pillow fight, which many filmmakers found inspiring. Animal House grossed $120 million in its initial release, the equivalent of about $500 million today, and was the #3 movie of 1978 after Grease and Superman.
Next up was 1981’s Private Lesson, with cinematography by Jan De Bont, in which an immigrant housemaid seduces a 15-year-old boy and later fakes her own death as part of his chauffeur’s blackmail plot. I did not watch this film, but the trailer is confounding, especially this choice line from the narrator: “What happened to him should happen to you.” (Keep in mind “what happened to him” is statutory rape.)The teen sex comedy’s most infamous entry is 1982’s Porky’s, which, as it turns out, has very little to do with virginity-losing hijinks, aside from a handful of raunchy moments. The film inexplicably features Kim Cattrall howling like a dog during sex, and a female gym teacher who becomes fixated on male genitalia. There is one character named Pee-Wee who is obsessed with losing his virginity, but it doesn’t happen until the closing credits.
I also watched 1983’s My Tutor, which, like Private Lesson, also features a teenage boy sleeping with an older woman, without really calling attention to, say, the potential consequences of such a thing. It ended up being the classiest of these films, which isn’t saying much. That same year, Screwballs was released. I didn’t watch it, but I’m pretty sure it was not classy, based on this plot description: “In 1965, five male friends at T&A High School try to see the bare breasts of Purity Bush, the most beautiful girl in school.”
A sort of spin-off from Private Lesson is 1983’s Private School, starring Matthew Modine and Phoebe Cates, which features men dressing as women to sneak into the girls’ locker room, and topless horseback riding. The fact that it’s told more from the girls’ point of view makes it slightly less creepy than some of these other titles, even though the guys here are still very problematic.Another “classic” of the genre is 1983’s Losin’ It, which, despite its distinction as having a lot of talented people associated with it, is pretty lame. Directed by Curtis Hanson, it stars Tom Cruise, Jackie Earle Haley, and Shelley Long in one of the purest premises for a teen sex comedy: four teenagers go down to Tijuana to lose their virginity to prostitutes.
Hot Dog: The Movie (1984) boasts actually contains this line of dialogue: “That’s a girl I can take advantage of,” which should tell you everything you need to know about that one. The same year saw the release of Gimme An F, another rare female-driven entry in the genre, which actually looks incredibly entertaining.
The next Private Lesson pseudo-spin-off, 1985’s Private Resort, stars Johnny Depp, Rob Morrow, Hector Elizondo, and Andrew Dice Clay. Highlights include characters running through hallways naked, an elderly woman doing a karate, drugging people with Quaaludes, and a diamond heist. It’s pretty wretched. Also from 1985 was The Sure Thing, with its sexism right there in the title. Directed by Rob Reiner, it stars John Cusack, Anthony Edwards, and Nicolette Sheridan in the title role. Curiously, many teen sex comedies take place in the past. Other commonly occuring tropes include womens’ clothes being ripped off, teen boys getting in bed with a girl who really turns out to be an unattractive older woman, lots of spying, lots of prostitutes, lots of horny foreign women, and lots of actresses I ended up feeling very bad for.
The genre died out around the mid-80s. Fast forward to the late 90s, when 26-year-old Adam Herz penned Unfinished Teenage Sex Comedy Which Can Be Made For Under $10 Million That Studio Readers Will Most Likely Hate But I Think You Will Love, which was understandably renamed American Pie after its most notorious scene.
In 1999, American Pie was known for a handful of raunchy set pieces — and its sweetness, relative to early entries in the genre. Watching a selection of 80s teen sex comedies certainly put me in a different frame of mind when watching American Pie, the story of four high school students who make a pact to lose their virginity by prom night, which is exactly the night they all do.
These are not exemplary specimens of the male species, but the filmmakers kind of know that. The women end up driving nearly all of the sexual activity in the film, which may not be the most realistic depiction, but at least gives them some agency that’s sorely lacking from a lot of the earlier films. American Pie also has Natasha Lyonne, who is sexually active and sex positive and not the object of these guys’ desire; she helps balance the scales and ends up being the most rational, likable character in the film.
The sex mostly ends up being anticlimactic, like a lot of actual first times. Our leads aren’t particularly smart, likable, or charismatic, which strangely enough gives this film some verisimilitude — since a lot of real high school boys aren’t, either. Thankfully, the very talented Eugene Levy and Jennifer Coolidge are on hand to breathe some life into more colorful characters than our leads.
That said, the script is flimsy and the film is crudely assembled. Four teen virgins wanting to have sex isn’t a plot, it’s just a fact. It’s hard to believe that Chris Klein’s jock Oz would go to all the trouble of joining a choir (near the end of his senior year) just to hook up with good girl Mena Suvari. The womens’ sexually aggressive behavior is convenient for the guys, but doesn’t really add up. Alyson Hannigan’s offbeat band camper Michelle is amusing, but why the hell is Shannon Elizabeth’s Nadia casually masturbating in Jim’s room? And why is all of Blink 182 and a monkey watching it?
I can’t really recommend American Pie. The gross-out humor dwarfs the sex comedy, unfortunately, and while the film isn’t that offensive (compared to the 80s films), a couple moments haven’t aged well. There’s some good stuff here, but it’s floating in a sea of mediocrity. American Pie seemed fine at the time, but looking back on it now is kind of embarrassing.