Miss American Pie
A review by Brennan Klein
I suppose I can't say in good conscience that American Pie Presents: Girls' Rules is the thing I least expected to happen in 2020, but it's at least in the top 5. Lord knows you can't keep a good franchise down, but the last peep we heard from the American Pie franchise (which opened the floodgates with the first film's debut in 1999, spewing out three sequels and four spinoffs) was way back when in 2012 with the decent but rather hangdog American Reunion. And the last film under the direct-to-video American Pie Presents shingle was even earlier: 2009's threadbare quasi-remake The Book of Love. But wherever in God's name it came from, it's here now so I have returned from on high to a franchise that has provided me with some great guilty pleasures and also more than my fair share of noxious trash.
The concept of "American Pie but girls" could have gone either way, but I am pleased to inform you that Girls' Rules is not, in fact, noxious trash. Let's dig into a little bit of the plot, shall we? Four best friends at the beginning their senior year enter into a sexual pact with one another, only it's 2020 so we're maybe not quite so hung up on the shame-driven concept of aggressively shucking one's virginity.
Each of the four friends has her own goal, to be completed before the homecoming "Morp" dance: Annie Watson (Madison Pettis), who is a bit dorky and has a hot dad, wants to have sex for the first time with the man she loves, and for some reason she thinks that man is her douchebag college freshman boyfriend Jason (Zayne Emory); Kayla (Piper Curda), who is freshly broken up with her obnoxiously considerate boyfriend Tim (Camaron Engels), just wants to get pounded like a piece of meat; Michelle (Natasha Behnam), sex toy expert and JFK devotee, wants a smart guy; and Stephanie Stifler (Lizze Broadway), whose relationship to Steve Stifler remains steadfastly unclear and who splits her time between having sex and giving off "Hayden Panettiere from Scream 4" vibes, wants a nice guy. Or maybe Michelle wants a nice guy and Stephanie wants a smart guy? Look, it really doesn't matter because they all meet new kid in town Grant (Darren Barnet) and separately decide he's the object of their pact (except Michelle, who is laser-focused on Jason despite her obvious chemistry with Grant). Hijinks ensue!
Now that this movie's out, we no longer have to do the thought experiment of "what would the teens in an American Pie movie have been like in today's modern age where sexual politics are massively different and people are slowly starting to realize it has never been OK to secretly film someone naked without their consent?" Miraculously, the greatest strength of American Pie Presents: Girls' Rules is that it answers this question pretty damn well, because the characters feel more or less like real teenagers. Or maybe I should say "current" teenagers, because Michelle especially is a full-on cartoon. Whatever the proper term is, their approach to sexuality and the world around them feels realistic to contemporary teenagehood. One particular detail that I like is a casual Friends reference that isn't foregrounded whatsoever, in a startlingly accurate representation of the mysterious ubiquity of Friends mania among the youths of the Netflix generation.
What results is a sex comedy that isn't inherently grossed out or panicked by the very idea of sex, preferring instead to draw the comedy from exaggerating the natural awkwardness of erotic interplay between two people (all heterosexual, natch). That's certainly the right approach in 2020, even if the screenplay (which is by men, natch) isn't quite sharp enough to be rolling out the belly laughs. Honestly, the single best joke in the movie isn't even in the screenplay, it's in the credits which proudly announce "introducing Barry Bostwick." Don't get too excited, he's in about 20 seconds. Still a good gag though.
For all that it lacks (including the Eugene Levy-shaped void in the center), American Pie Presents: Girls’ Rules is at least going for it with gusto. There are stylistic choices out the wazoo, from character-introducing title cards that look like comic book splash pages, to splitscreen in amounts that would make a Brian De Palma movie blush. Having watched my fair share of comedies made in the past ten years, I ache for a time when funny movies were actually worth looking at, on top of everything. Girls’ Rules might not be entirely succeeding, but it’s certainly trying, and that’s still a breath of fresh air in this endless desert of arid Judd Apatow improv scenes that go on two minutes too long.
You should be fully aware of what a meaningless statement is before I say it, but Girls' Rules is without a doubt the best of the American Pie Presentses. It doesn't quite scrape the enjoyment level of the lower end of the franchise proper (American Wedding and Reunion, in ascending order), but it gets a good deal closer than something like Beta House or The Naked Mile could have imagined in their wildest wet dreams.
Brennan Klein is a millennial who knows way more about 80's slasher movies than he has any right to. You can find his other reviews on his blog Popcorn Culture. Follow him on Twitter, if you feel like it.