While Eugene Levy was off winning an Emmy Award for Schitt's Creek, the American Pie universe went on without him for the very first time with American Pie Presents: Girls' Rules, a kinda sorta fem-centered reboot that takes what is essentially the familiar American Pie story and puts it into the hands of a quartet of high school girls - Annie (Madison Pettis), Kayla (Piper Curda), Michelle (Natasha Behnam) and, of course, Stephanie Stifler (Lizze Broadway).
What would American Pie be without a Stifler?
More than likely, we'll never know.
Directed by Mike Elliott, whose credits ironically include the GMA Dove Award-nominated Unbroken: Path to Redemption, American Pie Presents: Girls' Rules takes us back to East Great Falls for the girls' senior year and an all-out effort to get what they want, and you know what that is, for their senior year.
The truth is that if you've seen any of the American Pie films, then you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from this one. Girls talk about sex. Girls talk about wanting sex. Girls talk about having sex. Girls talk about masturbating. Girls masturbate. Girls buy sex toys. Girls get caught in awkward situations.
Oh, and yes, there's pie.
While there's a bit of an effort at a feminist twist here, it's not particularly successful given it comes from a male director and two male co-screenwriters, Blayne Weaver and David H. Steinberg. Still, there's diversity galore here and an abundance of body positivity, admittedly refreshing, though it's probably not a coincidence that the most sexually active of the quartet happens to be the one nearly anyone would also recognize as the hottest of the four.
We meet Madison Pettis's Annie fairly straight up, a virginal girl ready to give it up to her boyfriend before he goes off to college. Of course, nothing goes quite as planned and essentially it all spirals toward an agreement amongst them all to spend their high school year absolutely going for it. While Annie goes for her guy, the other three girls swoon over Grant (Darren Barnet), a new guy on campus whose real connection is obvious from moment one.
We just sort of spend our time waiting on everyone to realize it.
Kayla sets out to get back the guy she chased away, though if you're paying close enough attention she had more than a few reasons to be jealous. But, I digress. Along the way, Natasha Behnam's Michelle starts to become enamored because, well, we need some sort of conflict here.
Much has already been made of Elliott's intentionality about not exploiting his female co-stars, though in a film that's basically defined as "no full-frontal nudity" rather than no actual exploitation. Admirable, but not really.
That said, I can't deny that I laughed more than a few times throughout Girls' Rules and the leading quartet had a fun enough chemistry that more than once this felt like a naughtier Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. While the male characters here are paper thin at best, they still contribute to a handful of rather endearing moments.
The film's real gem is Sara Rue, whose turn as Ellen is non-stop delightful from her first encounter with the girls to a revelation that I dare not reveal here as it's definitely one of the film's better scenes. Rue is a master of physical and facial comedy, though facial comedy sounds a whole lot naughtier with a film like Girls' Rules than it really is here. She also adds moments of sincerity toward film's end that are absolutely sublime.
All I'll say is that for Sara Rue alone I'll give this film at least a modest thumbs up.
Despite nearly 50 years in the biz, Barry Bostwick gets an weird but wonderful "Introducing Barry Bostwick" credit. You'll also recognize character actor extraordinaire Danny Trejo and the wonderful Clint Howard.
I enjoyed this quartet quite a bit. Lizze Broadway fleshes out the Stifler role far more than Seann William Scott ever could, while both Piper Curda and Madison Pettis are awkwardly naughty yet also more than the caricatures one might expect here. Natasha Behnam also shines and I look forward to following her future work.
American Pie Presents: Girls' Rules doesn't break any new ground and it really doesn't move at all beyond the familiar American Pie naughtiness. While Elliott deserves credit for steering clear of overt exploitation, a female voice in the script would have gone a long way toward more successfully putting a fresh spin on this familiar material. That said, I can't say I regret spending 90 minutes with these characters and I finished the film with a smile on my face. While Eugene Levy is definitely missed, a solid leading quartet and a terrific turn by Sara Rue makes Girls' Rules worth another trip back to the American Pie universe.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic