Ken Tucker
July 13, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

”Buffy”’s good girl goes bad

Young people attending ”American Pie” this past weekend — ouch! I mean all you 17-unless-accompanied-by-parent-or-guardian young people (thanks for the electric cattle prod there, MPAA ratings-board president Jack Valenti) — may have been startled to see an Alyson Hannigan who did not exactly match the image of the one who plays Willow Rosenberg every week on the WB?s ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

On ”Buffy,” Willow is the show?s resident nice girl, brainier than your average high schooler. (Thanks to her grades and computer skills, she’s much sought after by college recruiters, as we saw during ”Buffy”’s senior-year episodes this season.) Shy and sweet, Willow has hooked up with Oz (Seth Green), part-time werewolf, part-time rock guitarist, full-time young man of few words.

In ”American Pie,” the filmmakers use Hannigan?s Willow-iness to shrewd comic effect, taking her small-screen image and initially playing up the dorkiness quotient. (Hannigan?s Michelle plays the flute in band camp — no more dorky does teenage existence get.) Then they pull the stained rug out from under us, with a punchline about her character?s enjoyment of the flute that I cannot even describe in this space. Let?s just say Hannigan will make you look at wind instruments in a whole new light.

For those of us who watch ”Buffy” all the time, it?s a tad startling to see Hannigan pop up on talk shows and biz shows like ”Entertainment Tonight” looking considerably more mature than Willow and opining that the raunchy sex scenarios in ”Pie” are pretty commonplace events in real life. I know Hannigan’s an actress playing a role — she might even be playing a role as Alyson Hannigan, the freethinking interview-giver — and I wish her nothing but the best in her movie career. But, among all the young actors filling the cast lists of teen movies right now (including her ”Buffy” costar Green), Hannigan?s transformation is the most striking. She?d give Willow the willies.

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