Phil Mickelson winning a major golf tournament, issues of People with no mention of Ashton Kutcher and franchises that get better with age are things that simply do not happen. Well, at least the first two.
Uproarious from raunchy start to rude finish, American Wedding is the embodiment of what the original American Pie aspired to be but fell short of — a go-for-broke riot that effectively combines touching moments with crass jokes.
Structurally, Wedding doesn’t change up the recipe too much, following a predictable gross gag to warm fuzzy pattern. But it’s not an annoyance, as screenwriter Adam Herz (who has written all the films) has an admiration for his main characters — Stifler included — that has never been clearer. Because they never trade up their quirks for a quick joke, it’s easy for us to identify with and care about them, too.
Sure, there are jokes about shaving the body’s nether-regions, doggie-doo and bestiality that only looks that way. But Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan, as couple-to-be Jim and Michelle, Eugene Levy as Jim’s dad and even Seann William Scott as the irrepressible Stifler are fully realized in their hopes and concerns, even if one of Stifler’s is to bed Michelle’s blonde-bridesmaid sister, Cadence (January Jones).
In fact, as much as it revolves around the wedding, the movie revolves around Stifler’s role in it or potential lack thereof. After dating for three years, Jim has proposed to band-camp sweetheart Michelle (although not without his typical bad-luck miscue) and planning details are in the works.
Michelle is fine with two of Jim’s friends being involved — the erudite but not-quite-suave Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas, who puts up the best fight of anyone to steal the movie back from Scott) and everyman Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas, who has gone 3-for-3 in this series as far as being given zilch to do). But she wants Stifler nowhere near her wedding day.
Hard to believe, but yes, the Stif-meister has feelings, and is hurt he has not been invited. What begins as his plan to crash the wedding evolves into help on his part both intended and inadvertent toward making sure the wedding goes as planned.
Stifler, who lives in an orbit all his own, is the one character anyone who enjoys the American Pie films loves. Herz knows that, and turns Scott loose for this third go-round of his establishing role. The set-ups for most of Stifler’s main gags are prototypical but built on comedy and character. (Keeping with the series’ tradition of centerpiece farce gags, the bachelor party scene is hysterical.)
Being never less than honest, even if that honesty is crude, is part of Stifler’s charm, although the constant turning of tables on his behavior is invaluable to the movie.
Herz hasn’t always had this kind of read on his characters, but most of the sketchy ones have been axed, thankfully with no pithy explanation. Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, Tara Reid, Shannon Elizabeth and Natasha Lyonne all are absent, and, really, Nicholas could have been shown the door.
But Levy’s presence is again a treasure, as strong an emotional presence as he is a comedic one. There is legitimately moving surprise and love in his face when he hears he’s the one who has gotten Jim through hard times.
And Biggs and Hannigan are perfectly convincing as a couple genuinely in love with each other but naturally nervous about impressing in-laws, archaic wedding customs and understanding their feelings.
The franchise clearly has exhausted itself here, but what has made it so surprisingly special is that it feels like it was written with the end result in mind, not simply dollar signs.