American Pie debuted when I was in fifth grade, and like Blink-182 and South Park before it, the high school sex comedy quickly ascended to the pantheon of raunchy, outrageous and forbidden content that was immediately gobbled up and then regurgitated ad nauseum by every tween in my elementary school. (Imagine how disappointed/relieved I was to find real-life high school as tame as a saltine cracker.) Millennials like myself grew up on this comedy classic of late-90s cinema, which launched not only three canonical sequels, but also an array of direct-to-video spinoff movies that attempt to summon the sweet-n-spicy spirit of the original.
Netflix’s faux-feminist American Pie Presents: Girls’ Rules plays as a gender-flipped reimagining of the 1999 film, which starred Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Eddie Kay Thomas and Thomas Ian Nicholas as four nerdy-to-average white Michigan teen boys who make a pact to lose their virginity before graduating high school. Twenty-one years later, a coterie of racially diverse and sexually-disappointed teen girls at East Great Falls High make a different pact at the beginning of their senior year: They vow to finally to go after what they want in life.
Sounds enlightened, right? The problem with Girls’ Rules is not that it’s low budget or the ninth entry in a 20-year-old franchise or laden with countless incest-adjacent jokes. No, the problem is that it envisions itself as a progressive reboot of the original merely because it stars women. Sadly, there’s nothing resembling a human female in this tasteless (but mildly tender) rom-com. Dashed together by a male director, two male screenwriters and a half-male producing team, the film appears to be the cinematic equivalent of two straight girls making out at a party for some bro’s attention.
Case in point: Within the opening moments, we meet brash Stephanie Stifler (Lizze Broadway) in the dank basement of her high school. Clad in skimpy, studded leather and high-heeled lace-up boots, she orders her titillated principal to “Strip, slave!” But instead of debauching him, she ambushes him, getting her #MeToo justice for the years he sexually harassed her and other students.
The plot point might have been galvanizing if the producers didn’t squeeze this comely twentysomething actress into dominatrix-wear while pretending she’s an underage girl. No, I don’t expect an American Pie flick to exude the sensitivity and eroticism of HBO’s Euphoria, a show actually invested in centering teenage female sexuality. However, I wasn’t anticipating my brain would immediately flash to my many female friends who were groomed and subsequently abused in high school by boys and men who manipulated their vulnerability, fooling them into believing they were in complete control.
Later in the movie, some ben wa balls fall out of a seventeen-year-old girl in the middle of the school hallway. Girls’ Rules isn’t newfound empowerment; it’s just the same-old exploitation.
In addition to Stephanie Stifler, who may be a distant relation of Seann William Scott’s infamous d-bag character, we’re introduced to moony-eyed Annie (Madison Pettis), control freak Kayla (Piper Curda) and kinky Michelle (Natasha Behnam).
Humiliated Annie is crushed that her boyfriend rejected her attempt at first-time seduction the night before he left for Michigan State. Erratic Kayla refuses to accept that her loving ex-boyfriend ended their relationship due to her jealous behavior. Overachieving Michelle maintains an obsession with sex toys and John F. Kennedy, loudly orgasming to footage of his speeches (a direct rip-off of the Fleabag Obama masturbation scene, which wasn’t funny either). And impetuous Stifler is finally ready to molt her tough-chick exoskeleton… for the right dude.
When the foursome promises to finally pursue their desires in their last year of high school, none of them expect they would all be going after the same specimen: dashing new kid Grant (Darren Barnet, who plays Paxton on Never Have I Ever.) I am truly not sure if I’ve ever seen a love-pentagon before on screen, but the film’s second-half shift toward romance — and away from stomach-churning gags — somewhat warms up the story by the end.
That said, your patience for Girls’ Rules may depend on how well you can tolerate slapstick set-ups featuring J.F.K.-shaped dildos, fakey-fake porno-level moaning, girls choking on dental dams, boys accidentally flashing their grandparents, Sara Rue hamming it up as a horny school principal and a minor experiencing a rippling orgasm in front of her father.
More than two decades ago, “One time! At band camp!” became a rallying cry for curious teen nerd girls. It’s no fun to see that radicalism twisted to reinforce stereotypes about the supposed irrepressible power of young female sexuality.
Cast: Madison Pettis, Lizze Broadway, Piper Curda, Natasha Behnam, Darren Barnet, Zachary Gordon, Camaron Engels, Christian Valderrama, Sara Rue
Director: Mike Elliott
Premiered: October 6th (Netflix)