Directed by Paul Weitz
R, 93 min.
Now showing at area theaters
It’s unfortunate that the teen sex comedy American Pie has been embroiled in the “how crass is too crass?” debate surrounding today’s cinema. Not that the filmmakers don’t bring it on themselvesin addition to the already infamous scene in which a character has relations with an apple pie, director Paul Weitz and screenwriter Adam Herz assault the audience with vomiting, diarrhea, and a man drinking beer spiked with semen. But American Pie is not really in the same genre as the funny but ugly There’s Something About Mary, the hilariously acerbic South Park, or the cruelly smirky Happiness. Rather, American Pie is a surprisingly sweet meditation on the mystery that is sex, especially to four high school seniors still looking to fulfill their manly purpose.
Our heroes are Jason Biggs as Jim (sex-obsessed but completely tongue-tied around girls), Chris Klein as Oz (the handsome athlete with a sensitive streak), Eddie Kaye Thomas as Finch (a poseur who uses faux suavity to mask his shyness), and Thomas Ian Nicholas as Kevin (who already has a girlfriend but can’t get past third base). After yet another night of striking out, the four friends make a pact to lose their virginity by prom night, and to encourage each other “like spotters in the weight room,” as Kevin puts it.
On one level, American Pie is a revival of ’80s teen sex romps like Porky’s and H.O.T.S., with their raunchy dialogue and humiliating high jinks. It’s neither as dumb as its predecessorsat least there are no jewel thieves in ape suitsnor as exploitative, apart from one fairly extended nude scene. American Pie also wants to be as gross and “edgy” as a Farrelly Brothers comedy. Many of the gag-inducing gags are indeed funnymy favorite involves a ’net-cast striptease and an “overstimulated” Jimbut the toilet humor and adolescent leering ultimately seem a little forced and out of place.
That’s because these four teenagers and their high school milieu are more realistic than any we’ve seen lately (except in Rushmore and Election). I’ve heard and read critics who complain that American Pie just isn’t that funnyan arguable point, depending on your tolerance for jokes about bodily functions. If they think the movie is worthless without laughs, though, they’re missing Weitz and Herz’s keener-than-most observations about the mixed emotions of high school boysthe protagonists’ firm belief that if they lose their virginity, they’ll finally understand more about life; or Oz’s realization that the “gentle act” he puts on to score with women is actually who he is, and can lead to something more rewarding.
The movie is spiked with other small, sincere moments. On prom night, after a string of awkward sex talks with his dad (Eugene Levy), Jim is relieved when his pop tells him to “be careful how you put it on”referring only to his corsage. The most perceptive subplot involves Kevin, whose girlfriend wants to have sex only when the moment is absolutely perfect and when Kevin can say that he loves herwhich he doesn’t want to do until the moment is perfect. Thus the movie captures the point in high school at which boys and girls start speaking the same language but meaning something entirely different.
American Pie is already a huge hit: Teenage boys are going for the gross-out, and teenage girls seem hooked by the genuine romances that emerge. Whether they’ll learn anything useful about sex is another matter. The film climaxes (so to speak) with a series of sex scenessome tender, some funnyand at my screening, every one generated nervous titters from the high-schoolers who filled the theater. But that’s the point. Movies and TV are filled with self-assured teens whose sex lives are taken for granted, as if the writers assume that all teens are happily, confidently, and regularly having sex. That’s an idea that comes mainly from other movies and TV shows.
Weitz and Herz’s teens have been inundated with those same media images: They’ve heard and read about sex almost nonstop since puberty. And yet they’re still confusedbecause nowhere do they learn that sex itself isn’t really about the act, but about a level of intimacy that most teens aren’t ready to share. The question that American Pie asks, with insight and welcome humanity, is the one once posed by Elvis Costello: “You can see those pictures in any magazine/But what’s the use of looking if you don’t know what they mean?”
The Wilde kingdom
Attempting to make a period piece “relevant” to modern audiences is usually a losing game: It wedges the material into the narrowest possible interpretation and treats viewers as if they were too thick-skulled to make the connections on their own. In adapting Oscar Wilde’s 1895 play An Ideal Husband, writer-director Oliver Parker sometimes tries too hard to impose contemporary trappings, especially when a 19th-century baron refers to information as a prime commodity. But in this undeniably entertaining film version, the text nonetheless retains its wit, its generosity, its grasp of human fallibilityand, in the bargain, its topicality.
Certainly Wilde’s examination of past sins and present deeds in public figures couldn’t be timelier. His servant of the people, Sir Robert Chiltern (Jeremy Northam), the British undersecretary for foreign affairs, faces blackmail by the conniving Mrs. Cheveley (Julianne Moore) over a past indiscretion. Unless he swings his support to an Argentine canal project, he will risk exposure, disgrace, and the loss of his wife Gertrude’s unquestioning adoration.
For help in the matter, he turns to his friend Lord Goring (Rupert Everett), an unmarried dandy who holds favor with Mrs. Cheveley as well as with Gertrude (Cate Blanchett). As Lord Goring restores right through discretion, mild deceit, and dazzling epigramsdelivered impeccably by Everett, in a delightful performance that masks moral depth with splendid insouciancehe emerges as the hero not only of the script but of the title as well.
In adapting the material to film, Parker tinkers with the play’s structure: He shuffles and crosscuts scenes, spells out some of Wilde’s racier implications, and dramatizes patches of exposition in his monologues. His most glaring changes, especially a rousing climax on the floor of Parliament, put too much emphasis on the play’s contemporary parallels. (The alterations aren’t nearly as intrusive as the music, which chirps for comedy and groans for drama.) He also trims some of Wilde’s sharpest asides for his own prosaic substitutions.
Still, Parker does much better by Wilde than he did by Othello a few years ago. His filming is much more adroit: Particularly effective is an overhead shot of Sir Robert in dishonor, imprisoned by his extravagant Victorian decor. But An Ideal Husband succeeds most when it tampers least with Wilde’s language, especially as handled by Everett, Blanchett, the delectably venomous Moore, John Wood as Everett’s splenetic father, and Minnie Driver as the most promising of Lord Goring’s prospects. The writer-director and his excellent cast remain true to Wilde’s ideals: that wit is supreme, and that truth means freedom from fear, hypocrisy, tyrannyand boredom.
Silence is golden
Bernardo Bertolucci’s new film Besieged concerns a musician who regains his passion after he strips his house of its ornate clutter. In a sense, that’s what Bertolucci has done with this feverish mood piece about isolation and self-sacrifice, made for Italian television and just getting a U.S. release. Shaking off the ponderous trappings of The Sheltering Sky, Stealing Beauty, and the stupefying Little Buddha, the director takes up hand-held cameras, restricts the action to one primary locationand tops off the challenge by telling his story largely without dialogue. The result represents Bertolucci’s liveliest, most cinematically breathless work in two decades.
Thandie Newton, the ghostly visitor of Beloved, plays Shandurai, an African medical student in political exile in Italy who becomes the housekeeper for a reclusive British pianist, Mr. Kinsky (David Thewlis, from Mike Leigh’s Naked). In a fit of obsessive longing, Kinsky blurts out that he loves Shandurai and will do anything for her. She taunts him to get her political-prisoner husband out of jail in Africa. Soon she notices that pieces of artwork are disappearing from the house, as Kinsky begins to compose with new urgency. Her feelings toward her inscrutable landlord grow deeper and more dangerous, and Newton gives a performance of silent-movie expressiveness, signaling wonder and terror through anxiously darting eyes.
Most of the movie takes place in Kinsky’s multileveled Roman villa, and Bertolucci makes charged psychological space out of its circular staircase, its rooftop partitioned by sheets, and its various floors. Interestingly, as the house empties of its furnishings, the expanding space becomes more intimate: The bare rooms and pale walls focus our attention on the people locked inside. It also seems to focus Bertolucci on the discipline of visual storytelling. Without the crutch of dialogue, Bertolucci and his ace collaborators (including cameraman Fabio Cianchetti and editor Jacopo Quadri) find ways to express thought, feeling, and sensation that are wordless but hardly silentthe movie’s audio track buzzes with music that ranges from classical to African pop, and with layers of sound that break down the privacy of people with nowhere else to go. It’s exciting to feel the characters’ nervousness conveyed through heart-racing jump cuts; or to see the depth of passion in a shocking burst of red, or a camera swirl that accelerates from slo-mo to regular speed.
Besieged depends so much on image, lighting, color, and sound for its impact that it sounds ridiculous in summary, and it’s bound to strike some folks as the silliest thing they’ve ever seen. Indeed, some of its gaudier passages approach the decorous delirium of Bertolucci’s onetime collaborator Dario Argento. But if you’re interested in seeing a master filmmaker work on the fly with brazen command of his tools, you’ll be knocked out by the movie’s visual invention and emotional immediacy. It’s the rare recent film that seems written in present tense.
Actor Dabney Coleman, whose career spans more than 30 years and nearly three times as many films, not to mention indelible roles in the TV series Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and The Slap Maxwell Story, will be in town this Saturday and Sunday to conduct a workshop in film acting for adults. With credits ranging from Tootsie to the upcoming Inspector Gadget, Coleman has been a constant presence on screen for three decades, and his costars over the years illustrate the diversity of his résumé: Henry Fonda, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks, Katharine Hepburn, Elvis Presley, and Kermit the Frog. The price for the workshop is $200, and spaces are limited; the workshop includes two days of preparation with Molli Benson of L.A.-based Benson Productions. For more information, call Jimmi McCarter of The Cannon Group at 321-8970.
Another great work by Hannah Kahn
My name is Eve
Why does joining a cult have to look so pretty, but be so ugly?
I'd say the hats are more BILLY JACK, but that fits into the whole hippy-cult…
Thank you for the write up. We greatly appreciate it! Hope we raise the funds…
Looks like he was a great Artist.......who left his Legacy behind for others to follow.....