American Wedding | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

American Wedding

Vow movement

The last time a movie character ate -- and do forgive me, gentle reader -- dog poop, it was probably more than 30 years ago, in a film so far underground that it ( ahem) came out the other side and qualified for cinematic infamy.

But now that that threshold has again been crossed, no less in a movie destined to top box-office charts, we can see that its ancestor, John Waters' Pink Flamingos, was a prophetic vision of the anything-goes pop-culture future. Along with being, of course, a movie in which a 300-pound transvestite chews on dog poop.

The latest movie to snack on excrement, American Wedding, is a screwball comedy of a curious kind. The purpose of this funny second sequel to the teen coming-of-age comedy American Pie isn't to demonstrate, as did the original screwball comedies (and even There's Something About Mary), that people are irredeemably silly. Instead, it wants to show that people can grow up even while remaining fairly silly.

So now the main characters from the first two films -- bumbling nice guy Jim Levenstein (Jason Biggs) and his sweetly horny girlfriend Michelle Flaherty (Alyson Hannigan) -- are college graduates ready for adulthood. The film attempts to stuff the 100 minutes between Jim's proposal and the wedding dance with as many obstacles as possible. As comedies require, the characters are ruled by impulse -- get laid, avoid ridicule -- and are embarrassed for it. Yet as the generous ethos of American Wedding decrees, they all come up smelling like roses.

Director Jesse Dylan cleverly splits the difference between his ruthless comic mandate and his heart-warming ambitions. The first scene finds Michelle orally servicing Jim beneath the table of the fancy restaurant where he's about to propose -- only he's forgotten the ring, which his earnest dad (Eugene Levy) chooses at this moment to dutifully deliver. But note the lighting: It's subtle and low-key, as in a drama (or an arty Euro comedy), not the sitcom glare we'd expect from a post-teen gag parade. And it stays that way throughout: A few scenes even find dust motes floating in beams of sunlight!

Which is not to say Dylan and screenwriter Adam Herz are channeling Howard's End here; this remains a film where one scene features simulated bestiality, and another an abortive S&M-themed bachelor party with duct tape, chocolate sauce and assless leather trousers. Nor is it to say that some supporting roles aren't seriously underwritten -- Michelle's sister Cadence (January Jones) -- or near-invisible (Jim's mom). Only that American Wedding honestly cares about its characters, and finds relatively honest ways to say so.

This is most apparent with Stifler (Seann William Scott), Jim's profane, leering nemesis/pal. Intruding on all things nuptial, Stifler nonetheless reveals previously unsuspected depth of personality, screws up in the worst way, and then redeems himself, all without breaking character. And when somebody has to eat something raw for the team -- well, let's just say the act makes Stifler a sort of hero. John Waters mightn't have let him off so easy.

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