A Belated Review of “American Reunion”
A little over a year ago I watched “American Reunion,” the fourth official installment of the “American Pie” series, and I find myself thinking about it pretty frequently. If you’re not familiar with my opinion on the original “American Pie,” here it is: “American Pie” is wonderful. I hesitate to call it “perfect” only for fear of being taken as hyperbolic. I say this because it simultaneously fulfills and subverts your expectations: it is a teen sex comedy with teen sex which ultimately arrives at the conclusion that teen sex is not that important. The male characters are essentially different types of redeemable assholes and thereby serve as conduits through which to relay your own adolescence (when examining your teenage self honestly, what can you really call yourself besides a certain type of redeemable asshole?). I would say that as far as its effectiveness in portraying a specific mood and time period, it is as good as anything that John Hughes is associated with. I love it. I can’t say the same for the two subsequent sequels. The last time I tried to watch “American Pie 2,” everybody gave up in the middle of the excruciatingly long girl-on-girl/gay panic scene, and I don’t think I’ve seen “American Wedding” since it came out, though I seem to recall someone getting sprayed in the face with diarrhea or breast milk or something. Excluding “American Reunion,” the rest of the American Pie franchise banks on being exactly what you expect it to be.
Now, before I say anything about “American Reunion,” I just want to say that it’s good, and you should see it. I mean, it’s pretty long, there might be some gross sex humor (I honestly can’t remember, but there probably is) and all of its jokes are pretty labored but…the last 30-45 minutes take place at the actual reunion, and it really feels like one, and it might make you feel pretty good.
Like I said, I saw “American Reunion” a year ago and have not watched it since and am not going to because this is not a serious post. Mostly I just want to talk about how “American Reunion” totally inverts one of the major conflicts of the original movie- that being the culmination of the antagonistic relationship between Finch and Stifler. Here’s basically what you need to know: Stifler is an agro frat dude who the audience loves to hate, whereas Finch is a quirky 90’s liberal who you are, maybe, perhaps, supposed to identify with. The two have a competitive relationship throughout the movie: Stifler repeatedly makes fun of Finch’s penchant for leaving school to go to the bathroom, Finch retaliates by spreading embarrassing rumors about Stifler, and Stifler retaliates by slipping Finch laxatives and tricking him into pooping in the girl’s bathroom. The storyline concludes with Finch sleeping with “Stifler’s Mom” at Stifler’s post-prom party. I feel kind of gross calling this a “victory” for Finch but contextually, that’s what it is.
What’s important to note here is that Finch is not a prototypical “nerd.” If there’s a nerd in “American Pie,” it’s probably Jim, the protagonist, who is a fuck up who can’t do anything right. Alternately, Finch is portrayed as having his shit together. He’s the smartest of the group, and his scheme to get laid by the end of the film is weirdly calculated and nearly successful. And given the fact that Finch and Stifler’s relationship isn’t defined by linear abuse, but reciprocation, I tend to think of them as equal yet opposite masculinities competing with each other on an even keel. And ultimately, “American Pie” asks you to favor Finch. And not just because he sleeps with Stifler’s Mom, but because you’re obviously supposed to take pleasure whenever anything bad happens to Stifler. Stifler accidentally drinks semen, and he fucking deserves it. John Cho urinates on Stifler’s head, and it’s awesome. Stifler never gets laid because dudes like Stifler are the worst, right? And we would all rather be like Finch, right?
See, “American Reunion” completely flips the script on this. The audience’s interaction with Finch and Stifler is a total 180. Whereas in the original three movies Stifler’s agro misogyny is to be taken as deplorable, in “American Reunion,” it’s portrayed as pathetic: he still says offensive shit to everyone, but the emphasis is placed on how much it isolates him. His dated douchebag shtick is really just an ineffective means of making friends. I initially typed that this “was legitimately kind of sad,” but, haha, it isn’t. But it makes sense, and you believe it, which is more important.
Meanwhile, what happens with Finch is really disturbing. He pulls up to the gang’s hangout on a motorcycle and tells them all about how interesting his life is. He’s traveled all across the world. He has weird tribal tattoos. Basically, he’s lived exactly the kind of life you would have expected of him based on the three prior movies. But then, halfway through the movie, it’s revealed that he’s fabricated everything. Finch is an assistant manager at a Staples on the East coast, and he’s stolen the motorcycle from his boss to get to the reunion. Finch is the saddest case in the entire American Pie gang. Even sadder than Kevin, who has become incredibly weird looking and still carries a torch for Tara Reid.
Do you see where this is going? Not only is Finch a complete disgrace, but arguably the driving plotline of the movie is Stifler’s estrangement from and eventual inclusion into the group. The whole movie is about accepting Stifler for who he is. And at the end of it, Stifler has sex with Finch’s mom on the 50 yard line. Stifler is the winner of “American Reunion,” and it blows my fucking mind. How did we get here?
I have a lot of theories on this subject, most which I’m pretty ill-equipped to discuss, but look, a lot of things happen in my brain when I think about Stifler having sex with Finch’s mom and I don’t know what else to do about it so please humor me with regards to the following:
I think the most obvious factor in determining Finch’s fate in “American Reunion” is the abject failure of the left during both terms of the Bush Jr. administration. As I said, this is not something I am particularly equipped to talk about because of my age, but from what I can discern, the relative economic prosperity of the 1990’s, coupled with a lack of prolonged military conflict, had a massive hand in cultivating the “slacker” aesthetic of the decade- an aesthetic which proved utterly futile and derived of charm when confronted with the chaos of post-9/11 America. In the 2000’s, 90’s liberals failed to stop the war, but more importantly, they failed to get Bush out of office, which, let’s be real, is crazy (If you’re my age, you probably weren’t cognizant of John Kerry’s uselessness at the time of the 2004 election, but having briefly observed his behavior as Secretary of State, I think I can conclude that his presidential run was pretty much a joke). And not only did liberals fail to invoke actual change, they even failed to create convincing discourse. Again, young person here, but looking back at Bush’s second term, it seems like the most prominent left wing talking point was “Did you know that fundamentalist Christians exist? Isn’t this offensive?” Trip out on the fact that Janeane Garofalo started as an edgy comedian whose material was mostly derived from not having her shit together, then became a voluntary punching bag for Fox News pundits in the 2000’s, and now no one knows where she is.
Earlier, I classified Finch as a “90’s liberal,” in part so I could extrapolate that the trajectory of his life is akin to that of the American left during the interim period between “Wedding” and “Reunion,” which I think makes sense. Doesn’t it make sense to think of the (seemingly) inconsequential Clinton years as a kind of adolescence? Doesn’t it make sense that what was charming and promising in said adolescence turned out to be totally futile in the tumult of your adult years (Bush Jr) and that you would ultimately end up working at Staples? I don’t know, maybe. See, classifying Finch as primarily a “slacker/90’s liberal” mostly just hinges on the fact that he’s kind of an intellectual and drinks espresso, so I don’t know how much water it holds. To be honest, Finch is not really an archetype for anything. Still, I have a suspicion that if people ten years younger than me watched “American Pie” for the first time, they might classify Finch as a hipster, which opens another can of worms.
I’ve been thinking about the perpetuity of hipster backlash recently, and if you’ll allow me to continue to speak in broad, sweeping terms, here’s my theory. Deplorable traits typically associated with hipsters include superficially esoteric taste, a vindictive sense of superiority, and obsession with self-presentation. Simultaneously, anyone who is under the age of 30 and is presently using the internet to do things or communicate with people is constantly at risk of exhibiting these traits, regardless of what kind of bands they like. Have you ever had an older relative ask you to define what a hipster is and discover that you can’t do it without being nuanced as shit? That nuance and complexity is at the root of hipster backlash, which could be more accurately called hipster panic or hipster paranoia, the whole culture of which is derived from a narcissism of minor differences. People who perpetuate hipster paranoia 7 fucking years on do so because, as is conditional of the times they exist in, they’re constantly on the verge of becoming what they supposedly hate.
And this may ultimately have contributed to Stifler banging Finch’s mom on the 50 yard line. Not only does Finch tellingly wear weird dated clothes that denote his self-awareness, he also takes pains to manipulate his image. In the first movie, Finch’s scheme for getting laid involves paying Natasha Lyonne to spread enticing gossip about him. As mentioned earlier, he blatantly lies about himself when he shows up in “American Reunion.” He’s also obnoxiously in your face about his quirks. He is the kind douchebag who would so something as calculatedly eccentric as setting up a putting green in the high school quad. So Finch is an obnoxious, affected hipster douche, which might have been opaque in 1999 but is transparent in 2014, right? Nobody wants to be Finch because we are all two tweets away from being him at any given moment.
Look, if given the option of being Stifler or Finch, I will pick Finch every time, though perhaps with some reluctance. This is what disturbs me about “American Reunion:” that we’ve collectively come to loathe people like Finch so much that we are willing to revise history and say that all this time, Stifler really deserved to get even. Stifler, the agro dude whose persona faintly resembles an Ace Ventura impression that never really went away. And while I disagree, I understand. Stifler is a reality that isn’t available to us anymore. He’s blissfully unaware and unabashed while never being held truly accountable for his actions. And we want to go back to that. And, when viewed through this lens, Stifler could potentially be seen as an underdog. Finch got laid. Stifler got peed on. Maybe it was Stifler’s story all along.
This has been 2,000 words on “American Reunion.”