”I am so sick and tired of all this bulls – - pressure!” exclaims a frazzled Jim (Jason Biggs) near the climax — cue Beavis-esque huh-huhs — of American Pie. He’s one of four high school seniors who’ve made a pact to lose their virginity by prom night, and now, standing in his tux on the dance floor with his supremely geeky date (Alyson Hannigan) out of earshot, he finally loses his cool. ”I mean, I’ve never even had sex and already I can’t stand it! I hate sex! And I’m not gonna stand around here busting my balls over something that, quite frankly, isn’t that damn important.”
A surprising sentiment for a raucous teen sex comedy? Maybe so, but more surprising still is this: The number of minutes that Jim is on screen between the moment he abandons all carnal hope and the moment he unexpectedly finds himself doing his very best impersonation of a mechanical bull is roughly…three. In fact, all four of the film’s protagonists get lucky at what appears to be exactly the same time—a collective triumph that makes the self-righteous, coitus-be-damned tone of Jim’s speech seem in retrospect just a wee bit disingenuous.
But wait a minute. Is it really reasonable to expect anything more from this genre than a goofy hormone-obsessed romp? As a matter of fact, it is: Revisit the slew of similar films that flooded the market back in the early ’80s, and you’ll find that beneath the rowdy set pieces and gratuitous T&A, many of them possess a remarkably serious and thoughtful core. Dumb, yes; crude and tacky, undoubtedly…but blind to the fact that adolescence is an emotional minefield, no.
Check out, for example, young, chipmunk-cheeked Tom Cruise wandering the streets of Tijuana in 1983’s Losin’ It (1983, Embassy, 104 mins., R). (Cruise wasn’t the only future Oscar nominee on the set: Director Curtis Hanson would go on to make L.A. Confidential.) The title ostensibly says it all, but Cruise spends the first half of the picture doing more or less what he does in the first half of Eyes Wide Shut: walking around goggle-eyed, silently observing others’ licentiousness, and chickening out of sleeping with hookers at the last second. Then as now, the guy seems petrified of the prospect of erotic contact; his reluctance may have irritated those who were hoping that Eyes would be borderline pornographic, but there’s no denying that it suits the character of a nervous virgin abroad. You’d think at least one of the fellas in Pie might be similarly anxious – but you’d be wrong.
Or consider Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982, Universal, 90 mins., R, also on DVD), still a favorite party movie nearly 20 years after its release. If you haven’t seen it in a while, what you probably recall is the fun stuff: Sean Penn having a pizza delivered to his classroom, or Phoebe Cates ambling topless through Judge Reinhold’s masturbatory reverie. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s dead-eyed, is-it-over-yet? expression during various unpleasant sexual encounters, however, may have slipped your mind, as may her character’s visit to an abortion clinic. In Pie, the characters’ angst is devoted entirely to the difficulty of finding (perhaps ”landing” is more appropriate) a sexual partner; Fast Times, for all its flippancy, also recognizes that the act itself is frequently problematic.