Total Nerd

'American Pie' Is A Nightmarish Vision Of Late '90s High School Life

Even though American Pie offers a comically heightened version of the high school experience, it completely nails many of the worst aspects of growing up in the '90s. Not only does the film capture the perils of toxic friendships and the raw emotions caused by raging hormones, it also includes a few cringe-inducing moments that would send a real teenager to therapy. 

American Pie isn’t just one of the greatest teen movies of all time, it’s an accurate depiction of the hellscape that was high school in the late '90s. From the intense pressure to lose your virginity to the relentless cliques and disgusting bathrooms, this coming-of-age film offers one of the most authentic portrayals of teen life for people who grew up when Sum 41 and extreme sports were the coolest things ever. 

  • Even 'Nice' Boys Can Be Monsters

    If American Pie teaches us anything, it's that traditionally "nice" guys are toxic. Throughout the film, protagonist Jim Levenstein is more or less nice (if not simply milquetoast), but he treats the women in his life as if they owe him something. He makes decisions based on what he can get from women without thinking of how his actions affect others. 

    Most famously, Jim exposes Nadia to the entire school via webcam while she's changing and touching herself in his room. After her host parents see the feed, they fly her back to Eastern Europe, which thankfully spares her from the ridicule of her fellow students. The only reason Nadia feels so comfortable in Jim's home is his nice guy schtick: he's not the type of dude who would secretly set up a webcam to record a girl changing, right? 

    It's not just Jim who tries out the nice guy routine; all of his friends aside from Finch put on the same act. Oz pretends to be a curious, kind young suitor while trying to woo Heather, and even Stifler half-heartedly pretends to be nice while attempting to hook up with someone at his party. It's an unfortunate truth of high school that boys who pretend to be good can do the worst emotional (and physical) damage. 

  • Cliques Really Mattered In High School

    The cliques at East Great Falls High School in West Michigan aren't as clearly defined as the social groups in films like The Breakfast Club or Mean Girls, but there are definitely still visible divisions. There are jocks, band kids, geeks, and whatever Finch is. These groups coexist, but they don't mix. 

    American Pie doesn't present the most thoughtful examination of many (any?) issues, but the film does underscore the hard and fast rules that define high school social groups. When Oz joins the jazz choir, his friends from the lacrosse team rip on him mercilessly. 

    In order for Jim to finally ask Michelle to prom, he must first completely swallow his pride. After all, she is a band geek. How could he - someone who knows members of the lacrosse team - stoop so low as to go to a dance with someone who plays in the school band? It's an off-putting attitude, but it's an accurate reflection of how kids think. 

  • Intimate Relations Are Seen As A Status Symbol

    The entire plot of American Pie is based around four friends desperately trying to lose their virginity so they're not viewed as losers. However, none of their classmates - other than blowhard Stifler - are judging them for their lack of experience. The guys set a deadline for losing their virginity out of a perceived pressure to be cool; however, outside of their friend group, this target is rarely acknowledged, let alone enforced. 

    Teen years are generally fraught with a need to conform, and society puts such a high premium on physical relations that it can feel like you're a loser if you're not hooking up with multiple partners. While Fatherly claims nearly half of all 2018 graduating American high schoolers were virgins, statistics don't matter much when your main concern is looking cool. Ideally, young people should think long and hard before engaging in physical relations. Unfortunately, real-life high school flirtation isn't always so strategic, and American Pie captures this perfectly. 

  • Using The School Bathroom Is A Nightmare

    It's crass. It's gross. It's not fun to talk about, but high school bathrooms have always been disgusting. Since students spend the majority of their teens in one building, you might think the bathrooms would be sparkling, but that's not the case. Finch's need to go home so he can go to the bathroom during the school day is a bit ridiculous, but not completely unwarranted given the condition of his school's restrooms. 

    If your high school had an ace janitorial staff, count yourself lucky, as most teens in the '90s had to deal with grimy bathrooms. The facilities in American Pie aren't horrendous, but the film still captures the sinking feeling that came with paying a visit to the school lavatory.