To Party Or Not To Party
By Carl Kozlowski
It’s an irrefutable law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. That fact doesn’t apply just to physics and the movement of objects, but even to our behavioral choices and the consequences they bring.
That’s especially true when you’re dealing with the wild behavior that seems to be par for the course during high school and college. Two new movies put those principles in play this weekend from distinctly opposite viewpoints: the wildly entertaining raunchfest American Reunion and the sophisticated art-house comedy Damsels in Distress.
For those who have been living under a rock for the past month or more, American Reunion is the long-awaited follow-up to the trendsetting trilogy of American Pie teen sex comedies that exploded to worldwide success between 1999 and 2003. The third film, American Wedding, followed the naughty shenanigans that surrounded the wedding of the series’ main characters, Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan).
That situation seemed to bring to an end a comedic saga that began as the tale of four male high school buddies determined to lose their virginity by prom night. But just as real-life high school reunions exert their own pull on people who have ostensibly matured and changed, Reunion is certain to draw a massive audience comprising both the current teen generation and original fans eager to relive their own laughs from the past.
In the latest film, the gang reunites for their 13th high school reunion (the 10th was canceled due to a fire). While they say they’re eager to relive wild times, in reality all but utterly degenerate wild man Stifler (Seann William Scott) have settled into long-term relationships or marriage.
Of course, nothing can stay calm for long in the world of the Pie movies, and soon plenty of hilarious, yet utterly unprintable, situations fly by at breakneck speed. The film is one you will either love or hate. If you’re a moral prude in any way, stay home. But if you need lots of belly laughs and are open to chuckling at behavior you would never want to actually experience, you’ll be extremely satisfied.
The magic of the Pie films lies not only in their inventive raunchiness but in the fact that the characters are expertly cast (especially Scott, Biggs and, in what I hope is a major career comeback, Chris Klein). The film has an inherent sweetness, stemming from the fact that the gang really wants to find true love more than an easy lay, and the new film’s writer-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (who made their own hit trilogy with the Harold & Kumar films) wisely find just the right balance to make this Reunion well worth attending.
Meanwhile, Damsels also marks a welcome return to the screen, except the comeback is not by the actors, but rather its writer-director, Whit Stillman. Stillman made a big splash in the indie-film world in the ’90s with his own trio of films—Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco—but spent the past 14 years mired in “development hell,” unable to complete financing for a new project.
He returns to the well with Damsels, once again mining the neuroses and insanely arcane passions of upper-crust East Coast WASPs. This time, indie “it girl” Greta Gerwig steps into the golden-girl shows of Disco star Chloe Sevigny, even looking remarkably like her as she portrays Violet, the leader of a trio of girls determined to revolt against the loose morals starting to afflict their very private, very proper university.
As the girls take new transfer student Lily (Analeigh Tipton) under their wings, Lily starts to realize that her new mentors are lost in a hopelessly outdated set of rules and standards that can’t stand up against the harsh reality of modern times. Stillman’s dialogue is extremely witty, a subplot involving the girls’ efforts to run their school’s suicide prevention center is funny and involving and his characters are unique creations.
So what’s not to love, right? Well, even as Stillman occasionally scores some gentle satirical points against his girls’ puritanical worldviews, the fact that they’re so opposed to doing anything risky ultimately makes Damsels an annoying experience, rendering the film more unbelievable than even the wild plottings of Reunion and the rest of the Pie films.
Thus, just as in life, your choices are clear. You can be a wallflower and sit on the sidelines of life, hoping for a perfect past, or you can face the wild and imperfect realities of your life and the modern age and dive in with gusto. I know which side I’m on.