Nine years after their last outing American Wedding, and a full, frankly terrifying 13 after the first film in the series American Pie, Jim (Jason Biggs) and the crew return for a ‘just the same but brand new’ romp which looks at how the guys are coping with the many vagaries of regular-guy adulthood.
We pick up with Jim, now father to a young child, and ensconced in a sexless marriage with erstwhile band camp honey Michelle (Alyson Hannigan). The masturbatory excesses inspired by their barren domestic predicament are demonstrated in an opening scene of brutally tasteless slapstick which, as one might expect, pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the film. If you find the prospect of an infant child with his dad’s wanking sock draped over his face funny, you’ll be OK.
Jim sees an opportunity to unwind with the forthcoming high school reunion, and it’s not long before we’re re-introduced to the crew of old; Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is bearded, successful and with a beautiful lady; eccentric Paul (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is spilling over with vague, improbable tales of international adventure; and hunky Chris (Chris Klein), the sensitive choirboy jock is now a popular-but-cheesy sportscaster. Oh, and of course, there’s manic manchild Stifler (Seann William Scott), now an office temp presided over by a fey, domineering boss. As anybody with any sense surely would, the guys do their utmost to avoid the Stifmeister, with limited success.
What follows is a largely predictable compendium of gross-out humour, a college-rock saturated soundtrack, and various shallow-arced journeys toward self-knowledge, punctuated by one or two would-be arch, postmodern nods to generational disparity. As ever, the best thing here is Scott’s wild-eyed turn as Stifler. He’s effectively the film’s wrecking ball; whatever’s happening, however unpleasant or mawkish, all he has to do is appear onscreen to provoke a laugh. Whether it’s mercilessly bashing a double-entendre into a single one, or shitting into a beer cooler, he’s the film’s comic heart. Further enjoyment is provided by the redoubtable Eugene Levy as Jim’s dad, one or two predictable but amusing cameos, and a surprisingly decent minor turn from Tara Reid as Kevin’s ex, Vicky.
However, while no-one will be surprised by frequent swerves toward the grotesque and amoral, genuine alarm is caused by the film’s treatment of women. In the first film(s), the girls had significant screen time, and even some half-decent characterization. There’s no such parity here, sadly. It comprehensively flunks the the Bechdel Test, (a handy barometer which names the following three criteria for a film for which to pass: it has to have at least two women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man). While it stops just short of the misogynistic viciousness of the likes of The Hangover films, much here leaves a bad taste in the mouth, not least the weirdly conservative agenda that makes women the source of the majority of the men’s problems rather than their own ineptitude, yet punishes them for expressing themselves sexually (Your inner/outer feminist will explode with rage at the treatment meted out to the character of Kara, Jim’s ex-babysitee). The less said about the ugly duckling-turned-stereotyped “spicy Latina” Trisha (Dania Ramirez) who falls hook, line and sinker for Paul’s swashbuckling colonial-lite tales, the better. It’s only really the spirited Michelle that saves the day in this respect.
Ultimately American Reunion, while almost wholly unnecessary as an endeavour, is just about what you’d expect. There’s a few laughs and a few vaguely sweet moments along the way, and it will certainly represent a worthwhile nostalgia trip for viewers of a certain age and constitution. Really, the film itself is a bit like how one might imagine the experience of hanging out with Stifler. It’s initially relatively entertaining, a little bit lovable, frequently disgusting, and when it’s over you won’t be in any hurry to repeat it.
American Reunion is in cinemas now. A version of this article originally appeared on the website The 405.
When it comes to romantic comedies, experience has taught us not to expect much substance. Forget about realism too. We automatically brace ourselves for two hours of saccharine, implausibly manufactured scenarios slanted towards pleasing a primarily female demographic. But Crazy Stupid Love takes those expectations on board, presenting a refreshing tragicomic romp designed to appeal to men and women alike. The film is thoroughly amusing and lighthearted, keeping its content familiar and accessible while packing in thoughtful details to keep the audience engaged on a deeper level.
At first glance, Crazy Stupid Love looks pretty unremarkable. The character types and plotline are familiar and predictable. A middle-aged man (Steve Carell) finds out his wife (Julianne Moore) is having an affair, so he leaves her to reassess his life and rediscover his manhood with the help of a devastatingly suave uber-bachelor (Ryan Gosling). But their performances are surprisingly charismatic and appealing, aided by fresh comedic writing. The montage of Carell’s transformation from a Gap-wearing dad to an Armani-wearing player while being bullied by Gosling is laugh-out-loud funny. And Carell’s rant on being ‘cuckolded’ comes to mind as a cleverer comic scene of despair than I’ve seen in other rom-coms.
To add dramatic irony and situational humour, there are love triangles sustained throughout the film – sure, it’s forced narrative complexity, but it’s nowhere near as contrived as what happens in Richard Curtis’ hyper-arbitrary Love Actually. Furthermore, the supporting cast involved in those love triangles add pleasant colouring to the film. In particular, the couple’s 13-year-old son (strongly acted by Jonah Bobo) is refreshing as a lovelorn tween approaching manhood himself. His character’s uncynical convictions juxtaposed with his dad’s wearied compromises are key to revealing the ‘heart’ of the film.
To its credit, Crazy Stupid Love’s strong thematic focus is served well by its technical side – the tight editing of its intercut storylines keeps the film moving at a good pace, and the thoughtful composition delivers the necessary exposition in interesting ways. There’s one long tracking shot that functions as a magical time-lapse montage of Carell’s character schmoozing with a slew of attractive women; it’s a memorable moment in which the film shows off its technical merits while still serving the story. The editing and composition are complemented by a decent soundtrack featuring the likes of Thievery Corporation and Talking Heads, largely avoiding cliched pop songs.
Crazy Stupid Love isn’t without its faults, especially as it nears its conclusion. The situations are almost cartoony, not helped by a horrifically over-the-top cameo by Marisa Tomei. But the script includes meta-commentary that addresses the unrealistic parts, making them easier for the audience to swallow. When it rains during the dramatic low point for the protagonist, he says: “What a cliche.” Indeed, aren’t most rom-coms chock full of cliches?
Thinking about other films in this genre, it seems most fall into three categories: relatively high-concept (see 13 Going on 30), topically niche (see My Big Fat Greek Wedding) or star-packed pastiche (see Love Actually). The fact that Crazy Stupid Love doesn’t follow these formulas is something to appreciate. The film clearly has a sense of humour about itself, which helps us also have a sense of humour about it as well. All in all, a good pick for a Valentine’s night in.
Crazy Stupid Love is now available on DVD. Contributor Cathy Landicho can followed on Twitter @ConfusedAmateur.