Apparently it’s “I ♥ the ’90s” week at the multiplex. The 3-D rerelease of “Titanic” has already opened, sparking flashbacks to Leo mania, debates about the blockbuster’s artistic merits, wonderfully snarky rewatch recaps and multiple quality “Titanic-”related lists on Buzzfeed, including this one, this one and this one.
This weekend also brings the release of “American Reunion,” the latest installment in the “American Pie” franchise that gets Jim, Steve Stifler and the whole gang back together for another round of naughtiness and references to band camp.
Yet the release of “American Reunion” — which corrals the original cast for the first time since 2003’s “American Wedding” — does not seem to be generating the same palpable sense of “American Pie” nostalgia that “Titanic” has. Now, clearly 1999’s “Pie” was not a phenomenon — box office or otherwise — on par with “Titanic.” Not even close.
But it had some significance in the pop cultural realm. So why aren’t we more nostalgic about it?
First, let’s talk about what the first “American Pie” managed to accomplish, besides the obvious. And by obvious, I mean encourage all of us to be more accepting of people who routinely have sex with pastries.
1. It became a surprise box office winner. During a year when a number of under-the-radar movies broke out huge — “The Blair Witch Project,” “The Sixth Sense,” “The Matrix” — “American Pie” was yet another semi-unexpected hit. A teen comedy featuring a cast of largely unknowns, it earned a little more than $100 million domestically and $235.4 million worldwide, on a budget of just $11 million.
2. It kick-started a new wave of raunch comedies.
“American Pie” was often compared to the sex romps of the 1980s. But the relatability of its characters and the sweetness of some of its plotlines — I mean, Chris Klein and Mena Suvari were kind of cute, right? — gave the movie a broader appeal. After “Pie,” studios were eager to greenlight comedies that worked from that same naughty-but-nice template, which paved the way for movies like “Old School” and “Superbad.”
3. It introduced the term MILF into mainstream culture.
This honestly might be its most important, lasting contribution to modern society.
4. It gave the world Steve Stifler.
And Seann William Scott is eternally grateful.
But despite all of these crucial facts, we don’t necessarily find ourselves fondly remembering the laxative-related tribulations of Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) or the blunt advice offered by the worldly Jessica (Natasha Lyonne). As successful, vaguely dirty comedies go, “American Pie” isn’t even quoted very often. I mean, every once in a while during an awkward pause at a party, someone will bust out a “This one time at band camp...” comment. But that’s about it.
So why is that?
As Tim Grierson noted in his “American Reunion” review on Deadspin, maybe part of the problem is that the “Pie” characters aren’t complex or engaging enough.
“As raunchy and foul-mouthed as Jim and his posse were, they’e actually sorta sweet — and bland,” he writes. “And in American Reunion, they remain bland nonentities.”
There’s also the matter of all those sequels, and not just “American Pie 2” — a higher earner than the first “Pie” — and “American Wedding.” I’m talking about the many straight-to-DVD, devoid-of-every-“Pie”-cast-member-except-Eugene-Levy flicks that were punted out by Universal, one after the other, in the ‘00s. (Fun fact: Eugene Levy has been in eight “American Pie” movies.)
The value of the first movie was depleted with every “American Pie Presents: Beta House” that attempted to titillate the teens who were way too young to see the first, R-rated “Pie” in theaters.
And perhaps the actors’ lack of long-term success has us subconsciously second-guessing why we ever liked the “Pie” movies, too. Yes, everyone in “American Reunion” is still working, some much more actively (Alyson Hannigan) than others (Tara Reid). But few of them have been able to land consistently great parts. The biggesst success stories of the bunch are probably Hannigan (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “How I Met Your Mother”) and John Cho (the “Harold and Kumar”movies and “Star Trek”). Obviously, Levy — given his work in the Christopher Guest films — is in a different category.
Maybe these factors explain it. Maybe they don’t. Either way, I’m having a really hard time flashing back to “American Pie” and feeling anything other than, well, kinda limp.
Is it just me or you also afflicted with a strong sense of non-nostalgia for “American Pie”? Vote in the poll below and weigh in.