Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 11, 2020)
After three movies, the American Pie franchise appeared to end with 2003’s American Wedding. However, the series instead moved to direct-to-video spinoffs.
Under the American Pie Presents banner, these launched with 2005’s Band Camp and continued through 2006’s Naked Mile, 2007’s Beta House and 2009’s Book of Love.
With Book of Love, the spinoffs appeared to end. The original characters returned for one last hurrah via 2012’s American Reunion, but it bombed and that seemed to seal the deal.
Never say never, and 2020’s American Pie Presents Girls’ Rules reignites the franchise for a new generation. We return to East Great Falls High School in Michigan to meet Annie (Madison Pettis), Stephanie (Lizze Broadway), Michelle (Natasha Behnam) and Kayla (Piper Kurda).
At the start of senior year, each one finds herself at a romantic crossroads. They make a pact to work on this but a snarl arises when all four find themselves involved with Grant (Darren Barnet), the hot new guy at school, so their competition revolves around the quest to land him first.
By coincidence, I watched the original Pie and its first two sequels not long before I received Rules, so those flicks remained fresh in my mind. When I viewed them, I wondered if they could be made the same way today, given societal changes such as the “MeToo” movement.
It turns out the answer is “yes”, though with a twist, as matters now revolve around female protagonists. In the span since the final Pie Presents, 2011’s Bridesmaids reinvented the raunchy comedy genre with a feminine angle, a tone that continued via other hits such as 2017’s Girls Trip and 2016’s Bad Moms.
Though the original Pie provided a layer of sweetness unusual for the genre, it still came with the kind of vague misogyny that seems more difficult to pull off in 2020. Thus we find the feminist reinvention found in Rules.
On the surface, Rules offers a semi-remake of the first flick, mainly in that the four leads commit to a pact. In 1999, the guys all planned to lose their virginity by prom, whereas here the girls want to get their sexual lives together by “morp”, a fall “reverse prom”.
This time, only one character – Annie – needs to lose her virginity, and the choice to avoid mass cherry-popping seems smart, and that theme would inevitably seem ugly. Double standard it may be, but society views the loss of virginity for girls very differently than for boys, and that theme could turn icky in a hurry. Rules values more of a “girl power” tone than anything else, and that works.
To a degree, at least, as I can’t claim Rules brings a particularly compelling piece of Pie. While it attempts to update the franchise for the 2020s, it can feel tentative in that regard.
Viewers liked the Pie flicks due to the fairly non-PC raunch, and the shift away from that can seem awkward. Rules comes with some tawdry material – mainly via reflections on female self-pleasure – but it avoids the “hard-R” vibe of its predecessors.
Again, I get that, especially given that Rules features high school students. It’s tough enough to pull off a comedy in which 17-year-old girls get laid, because as noted, there’s always been a double standard where teen boys doin’ the deed is celebrated but teen girls find themselves shamed for the same actions.
There’s your “semi-feminist” angle, as Rules tries to reverse this course. It does so in a decent manner, though again, its tentative nature makes it a bit iffy, as the film can’t decide whether to go “coming of age” or teen sex romp.
These factors leave Rules as inconsistent but not bad, and it clearly acts as the best of the Pie Presents films. Admittedly, the perv in me misses the ample nudity from those earlier flicks, as Rules comes with zero skin, but it still works better as an actual movie.
Don’t take this as a strong endorsement, as I can’t claim Rules does anything especially well. It seems like a fairly mediocre flick that doesn’t quite hit a groove.
Still, since the rest of the Pie Presents flicks stunk, “watchable but forgettable” seems like a step up. Though Rules lacks much to make it winning, it becomes a decent stab at franchise reinvention.
By the way, the biggest connection between Rules and the original Pie comes from the Stephanie role, as we learn she’s Stephanie Stifler. Unfortunately, the film does little with this beyond her grating personality.
While not as obnoxious as the older flicks’ Steve, Stephanie comes across as brash and sex obsessed. Inevitably, it softens her along the way, and the use of the Stifler name feels fairly gratuitous, especially because the movie doesn’t bring a cameo that would add impact.
Also, unless I missed something, I don’t think we ever find out if Stephanie is Steve’s daughter or niece or whatever. The Stifler concept dangles out there without closure.
The only other direct connections to the original movies comes from the high school, the pact, and occasional glimpses of pies. Rules also becomes the first Pie movie that lacks the presence of Eugene Levy, which seems ironic. He appeared in all the awful prior Pie Presents flicks but he skips the one that’s actually decent?
Final footnote: a tag scene appears after the end credits.