December 22, 2012 Essays on Film

There are a handful of certainties in life. Bills. Taxes. Death. And high school. For some, the latter is by far the most petrifying. The American satirist Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once observed, ‘True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country’. He has a point. If the seniors from my high school’s Class of 1995 were running the country today, I’d have moved to the South of France yesterday.

Even after it’s long over, high school is an inescapable institution: like the infamous Hotel California, you can check out but never leave. Perhaps that accounts for why high school reunions often generate a spectrum of conflicting emotions, from nostalgia and excitement to apprehension and trepidation or, at its most extreme, sheer terror and resistance.  If conflict is the essence of drama, then this may also explain why reunions serve as lucrative fodder for films.

In their latest collaboration, writer/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg deploy this theme as the premise for American Reunion (2012) ⎯ the latest (and supposedly last) instalment in the lucrative teen movie franchise ‘American Pie’. 13 years have passed since four seniors from West Michigan made a pact to lose their virginity on prom night. After going their separate ways, Jim (Jason Biggs), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Oz (Chris Klein) and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) return to their hometown, rendezvous in a bar and wax lyrical on their lives, post graduation.

Jim is married to high school sweetheart Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) and they are doting parents to a two year-old son. Oz is a prominent sports broadcaster living the fast life in L.A. with his supermodel girlfriend. Kevin is also married and domesticated, working as a home-based architect. The elusive and eccentric Finch has become a motorcycle riding, globetrotting adventurer while Stifler (Sean William Scott), the perennial jock who the gang have ignored but who arrives in Michigan unannounced, now works as a temp for an investment firm.

For each of them, the reunion offers a release from the challenges of post-high school life: a sex-starved marriage (Jim and Michelle), a meaningless relationship (Oz and his supermodel girlfriend), a clingy and rigorously regimented marriage (Kevin), an unfulfilling occupation (Finch), the stubborn nostalgia for past glories and proclivities (Stifler’s relentless obsession with sex and debauchery).

While the gang has grown older, they are none the wiser; they still pursue sex with ravenous and reckless abandon, but in each instance the chase is always frustrated by time ⎯ finding an available and appropriate moment, kindling past passions, lying and pretending to spark new connections, coming to terms with negotiating the boundaries between sex and friendship.

Reunion’s charm lies in its sensitivity to the contradictions of time. People change as years go by; they accrue new lifestyles, construct alternative identities, embark on contrasting careers and yet remain the same.  Heather (Mena Suvari) and Oz discover that while time has granted them new careers and lovers, it has not extinguished their chemistry and compassion for one another. Likewise, Vicky (Tara Reid) and Kevin realise that their impassioned history as high school lovers does not prevent them from remaining close friends. Even Stifler, that paragon of machismo and heterosexual bravado, is forced to confront the paradoxes of the past: many members of his high school lacrosse team were actually gay and two of his closest team mates – now happily engaged – select him to organise their wedding.

Fans of the franchise will be delighted that the original cast have been reinstated, including the wise and witty Jessica, the smarmy and awkward Sherman, the seductive Nadia (the Romanian exchange student whose live bedroom antics with Jim went viral on cyberspace) and the M.I.L.F duo. All of them are grafted into the script and make comically intrusive cameo appearances.

In many teen comedies, parents play a marginal role or serve as background props (I’m thinking of Larry Clark’s 1995 directorial debut Kids). But in American Reunion, it is Stifler’s Mum (Jennifer Coolidge), Jim’s Dad (Eugene Levy) and the ravishing and raunchy Rachel (Finch’s heretofore absent mother played by Rebecca De Mornay) who almost steal the show and literally have the last word. Which goes something like this: a reunion involves nothing less than confronting the past, accepting your shortcomings and, at the same time, remaining open to new possibilities…and curbing your cravings for fresh, hot apple pie. Easier said than done.

– Dr. Varga Hosseini