The teen movie is a simple but sometimes fumbled genre, but they can shape a generation when they’re great. It’s a genre that upcoming/first-time directors can cut their teeth, or established filmmakers can look back and bring their teen years to life.
In recent years some of the years best films have come from this pocket of filmdom. From Booksmart, which made Olivia Wilde a sort after director to Hailee Steinfeld in The Edge of Seventeen. Love, Simon (which I believe should’ve gotten a sequel), the recent BAFTA-nominated Rocks, Lady Bird and Jonah Hill received praise for his directorial debut Mid 90s.
The list can go on and on. The biggest library on Netflix is catered to this genre, with the streaming services biggest hit are To All The Boys (which led to a trilogy) and in the world of TV, Sex Education is a must-watch.
I want to add the underappreciated Teenage Bounty Hunters to this list, and I’ve previously made my case for this fantastic TV series. You can click the link to find out more.
The standard two tropes are understandably coming-of-age (which John Hughes dominated) or rom-com. The other subgenre within this genre is the sex comedy.
It’s a subgenre that is still going strong with the likes of Superbad, Blockers and Yes, God, Yes. Meanwhile, you have classic films like Risky Business, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Animal House, Porky’s and Weird Science. None of them still don’t match to the greatest of them all, American Pie.
There are many reasons for this statement, from the go-to plot of the genre: four best friends form a pact to lose their virginity by prom, to the script, cast and the incredible soundtrack. That is so nostalgic it has its own Spotify playlist and iconic nineties bands.
However, the biggest reason is the film (even in 2021) feels real. Everyone has a Jim (Jason Briggs) in their group, and if you don’t know who it is, it’s likely you.
There’s nothing wrong with that; I’m a Jim. It is full of self-doubt and low confidence when talking to women, making you think “what’s the point” and feels the pressure of losing once virginity and it a stigma that should be gone, but I guess it never will.
This is perfectly highlighted in Jim’s speech during prom, shining a light and going against the film genre. Telling boys that they shouldn’t be pressured or bullied into having sex, let alone by your own best friend, who is acting overly cocky and a bit of a dickhead to hide his fears, which Jim calls him out on.
Throughout the film, Jim has the closest to real teen boy emotions. It starts right away when he sees his dream girl Sharron Elizabeth’s Nadia at Stifler’s (Seann William Scott) party and gains some courage to speak to her.
Time stops, the picture crystalises in your head, and music starts playing. Eita James’ At Last is an excellent choice as it finally feels in your mind that life will be perfect.
It doesn’t stop Jim from Jim; he doesn’t become a new man for this courage. He bumps into a table before making his move. When he finally gets to Nadia, he freezes, and all the courage falls out of his arse.
When he’s given the golden ticket of Nadia in his room and in front of his whole school (putting aside the creepiness of filming a woman undressing without her knowledge) blows his chance twice. In a way, it’s revenge for his creepy behaviour becoming the joke of the school.
While Jim believed Nadia was his dream girl, Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) is his perfect girl as they the two people on the same coin, Jim is the band nerd without the music and the only girl he feels comfortable talking to.
Biggs and Hannigan are two perfect examples of casting a film as close to real-looking students as possible (even though a lot were in their early/mid-20s) because schools aren’t full of beautiful people like Elizabeth’s Nadia or Oz played by Chris Klein.
Everyone is average or below, hell I was and still am, we find beauty in different ways, and while American and British high schools are different – they finish at 18, while we leave at 16 – we suffer the same things, hormones, awkwardness, spots to name but a few.
Even during the nude scene, Nadia isn’t happy with the way she looks as she sees herself in the mirror, tapping her stomach.
Besides that, no one is worried about dieting, no one is ripped or are exercising unless they’re in a team. When things do become sexual, it feels natural because no one knows what they’re doing.
The closest we see this is in Vicky (Tara Reid) and Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), who, while time isn’t stated they have been in a relationship of at least their full senior year, have done stuff together.
Kevin even feels bad for not giving Vicky an orgasm and wants to make it right, which is another thing that the genre never did as it was always guy-centric. It was the first time a film said it’s just as important to make your partner orgasm as it is for you.
In their storyline, both characters have the same issue, how to express their love for one another? Kevin wants to mean it when he says, “I love you,” while having sex is vital due to the stigma. Whilst Vicky wants to have sex at the right moment and saying “I love you” isn’t as big of a deal.
Their story is one of time, which I’m sure plenty of people will remember having these same thoughts.
Screenwriter Adam Herz could’ve gone the easy route for the couples ending by making them the high school sweethearts that get married, but the film does the brave thing of having their perfect moment being their last as a couple.
Even more surprising, it’s Vicky that decides on the understandable ground they’ll drift apart once they go to college and become adults.
The most significant character growth is Klein’s Oz, who goes has that coming-of-age storyline. From the jock who stupidly asks a girl to “suck me beautiful” and to this day, after years of rewatches, it surprises me she doesn’t hit him.
Instead, after laughing at him, she tells him to do more, and he goes through with it to the point we see a completely new person. Oz is leaving high school and going to college a man both physically and mentally.
Paul Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) doesn’t really do a lot in the film. We see he’s the eloquent one of his friends, reading The Wall Street Journal and drinking “mochaccino” than his friends and takes the easy route of paying Jessica (Natasha Lyonne) to spread rumours.
To his credit, the plan works and showcases how high school gossip can really be the making of someone. The project falls apart due to Stifler’s prank but ultimately gets the last laugh sleeping with his mum (Jennifer Coolidge).
Let’s touch on the cultural impact of Stifler’s mum because while the term was around before, it wasn’t until John Cho come along a said the word MILF that changed the world. From 1999, those four letters became a top three search for any porn site.
Speaking of Scott’s Stifler, he’s someone we can remember who seemingly find their golden years in high school but not much happened afterwards. He was the one teen boys want to be, but it would Oz or Jim in reality.
I quickly wanted to talk about the soundtrack, because like all teen movies, it has a collection of great music. I think it must be something studios look for when greenlighting a project.
From Blink 182’s Mutt, a song I can listen to and picture the full scene of Jim running between his and Kevin’s house to Eita James (as mentioned above). You’ve also got the classic use of Simon & Garfunkel’s Mrs Robinson, a song simply used before a younger man has sex with an older woman.
During the Prom scene, the band plays Don’t You (Forget About Me) by Simple Minds, which is a nod to The Breakfast Club, possibly a way to respect the films that director Paul Weitz and screenwriter Herz grew up watching.
Finally, in many ways, American Pie was ahead of its time, using online dating, (even though it’s creepy) the webcam scene is now a career for many thanks to like of camming and Onlyfans.
It was also honest about school life, the awkward sex talk with parents, the moment Eugene Levy walks in with the adult magazine will always be funny and just all of Levy’s parenting moment.
You’ve also got Mena Suvari’s choir girl Heather explaining her life isn’t so different to the party crowd or how the band camp kids are truly happy in their dorkiness. In teen films that spilt high school into popular kids and losers, American Pie showed that different cliques can live in the same universe and be fine with that.
This is why American Pie is the greatest teen sex comedy and one of the greatest teen movies ever made.