In the first one, he loses his virginity to her. In the second one, he falls in love with her. And in this one, he marries her.
The moment the sweet but terminally clumsy Jim meets the sweet, sexually confident Michelle in American Pie, he finds his future without even realizing it. In American Pie 2, he finally acknowledges his good fortune. And in American Wedding, he hopes for a perfect ceremony and the start of a great life together.
Number two set a high standard for this raunchy series. It was one of the funniest movies I screened in the last decade. And although number three couldn’t possibly top its cheerful, gross-out silliness, I liked it as much as the first one. I laughed so hard I gave myself a headache.
Like its predecessor, the movie opens strong with a sex gag. Jim (the always affable Jason Biggs) is out to dinner with Michelle (the always lovely Alyson Hannigan), his girlfriend of three years. Now college graduates, he’s eager for her to reach for that napkin which is covering up something very important. If she accepts, he can finally move out of his parents’ house for good.
Unfortunately, this request takes place during a misunderstood conversation about spicing up their sex life which inspires Michelle to do something so impressively bold it can only happen in a movie like this. In the middle of it, Jim gets a frantic call from his dad (the delightful Eugene Levy) who tells him that his surprise is about to be spoiled if he doesn’t get there in time. To say anything else would ruin the many pay-offs of this terrific sequence.
What I will say is that a proposal is made and accepted in between two hilariously embarrassing discoveries.
And the laughs keep coming as preparations are made for Jim & Michelle’s wedding. Most of them involve Stiffler (the brilliant Seann William Scott), the coarse, oversexed yet strangely endearing son of the alluring MILF (the awesome Jennifer Coolidge) the public-toilet-phobic Finch (Nicolas Cage sound-a-like Eddie Kaye Thomas) has been remarkably able to bed on more than one occasion.
Now an assistant football coach, Stiffler is stunned to learn that he’s not been invited to the ceremony after showing up unannounced at the engagement party. (His confrontation with his old high school buddy leads to a very funny moment.) Fortunately, Jim can’t dance and needs a teacher so he doesn’t look foolish pairing up with his bride during the reception. It just so happens that the Stif-meister is light on his feet (blame the MILF for making him take all those lessons) and willing to help his reluctant friend. He’s hoping his efforts will convince Jim to change his mind about that reneged invite. This ultimately leads to a later scene in a club which features one of the funniest dance-offs in movie history. The less I say about this, the more you’ll enjoy it.
In the meantime, Jim is not making a very good impression on his future in-laws (Deborah Rush and Fred Willard in fine form here). The incident with Stiffler is mostly to blame. So, he secretly invites the Flahertys (a sly SCTV tribute) to a private dinner only to discover that Stiffler, Finch, Kevin (the always supportive Thomas Ian Nicholas), a couple of cute strippers and an assless chaps-wearing gay guy are already there having an impromptu bachelor party. (Long, funny story.) Let’s just say Michelle’s mom is incredibly understanding about the blatantly bogus reasons given for their presence there.
A lot of the credit goes to the Stif-meister who hilariously channels Eddie Haskell to not only win over Jim’s fiancé’s parents and to score with Michelle’s beautiful, recently unattached sister, Cadence (the elegant January Jones from Mad Men), who also attracts Finch’s interest (he amusingly imitates Stiffler to win her affections with some degree of success), but also to be included on Jim and Michelle’s big day. Despite his arrogance and lack of couth, he actually cares about them.
Meanwhile, the bride and groom both privately fret about the wedding. He’s worried about everything not being perfect (and with good reason), she’s worried about not finding her dream dress and writing her vows. Thanks to Finch’s secret surveillance, Jim learns that Michelle is looking for a specific type, elusive in the local bridal shops, but able to be made specifically by a designer in Chicago. The lads tag along for support as they try to track the person down. As for her vows, there’s a lovely, humourous scene where Michelle asks Jim’s dad for advice on what to say during her big moment. It turns out to be quite helpful.
And therein lies the remarkable strength of this surprisingly heartwarming series. In the midst of all this outrageous comic mayhem are genuinely likeable characters who care for each other so deeply, they are willing to do literally anything to preserve these relationships, even if it means sometimes humiliating themselves, intentionally and accidentally, in the process.
Consider Jim’s pursuit of Michelle’s dream dress in Chicago and the lengths he’ll go to please her parents; consider how his dad saves his ass in the opening scene and his loving support for his nervous future daughter-in-law; and especially consider everything Stiffler does for the happy couple, even if most of his actions are make-goods for serious screw-ups.
Seann William Scott’s performance here is so integral to making American Wedding work overall. If he’s not funny, the movie isn’t funny. Plus, he has to convince us that not only is he genuinely remorseful for his careless mistakes and willing to fix them, he also needs to make us believe that he can evolve a little bit without losing the core obnoxiousness of his character. If Stiffler wasn’t already an iconic movie character before, he is now. It’s a testament to Scott’s performance alone that even though it’s really weird that the absent Mena Suvari, Chris Klein, Natasha Lyonne, Chris Owen (the Shermanator) and Tara Reid are never mentioned once (did these characters all have a falling out with Jim and Michelle?), they’re not really missed here. That said, the rest of the cast also deserve credit for their funny performances, as well.
Yes, not every one-liner is funny (only a few actually miss, really, which is rare for a three-quel) and some suspension of disbelief is definitely required for some of the physical gags like Stiffler’s mishap with a wedding ring or Jim’s bad decision to do some manscaping (both are very funny despite being quite contrived). Indeed, the angle involving Finch and Stiffler switching personalities to win over a woman is as old as time itself (still hilarious, though) as is the entire plot of the film, like the two previous entries in this series, for that matter. And yeah, as much as I liked the soundtrack, I prefer James’ original version of Laid, thank you very much. (However, the use of Van Morrison’s Into The Mystic during the wedding reception is an inspired choice.)
But imperfections and hilarious comedy aside, at the heart of this story is the very sweet romance of Jim and Michelle. There’s a nice scene where she explains to him why it’s so important she finds that elusive dress. She wants to be the most elegant woman in the room, a feeling she’s never experienced before as a quirky band geek. And there’s another one while they dance at their reception. After she refers to him as a “perv” and he calls her a “nympho”, both said with half-joking affection, they collectively agree that what they really have together is “perfectly natural”.
In that instant, you can feel them shed their fears and worries as they dance their way to a hopefully happy future together. As American Wedding draws to a close, your own fears and worries that this film wouldn’t be funny and sweet completely disappear as well. I can’t believe I waited ten years to finally see it.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, November 14, 2013