Was Jim's Dad the sex-positive icon the noughties needed? I truly think he was
There’s an exquisite moment in American Pie: Reunion where Jim’s Dad, played by Eugene Levy and his eyebrows, probes his grown-up son on the specifics of his bedroom woes: “Is it an erectile problem? Because sometimes you can buy a little time with a well-placed thumb. I’m just saying… That’s something to keep in your back pocket.” Oh, man. It’s bravura performance, beautifully underplayed, a ballet of embarrassment that Levy has perfected over the course of eight American Pie movies since 1999. I just fucking the love the guy, you know? He’s every embarrassing Dad, like, ever.
Well, obviously the American Pie films haven’t aged particularly well. The movie where a guy fucks a pie isn’t woke, I’m sorry to say. Back when I was a grubby teenager, it seemed funny that, in the original, released a harrowing 20 years ago this week, Jim and his naughty friends (Chris Klein and Eddie Kaye Thomas) watch secretly via webcam as an oblivious Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) gets undressed in Jim’s bedroom. I’m now a relatively enlightened man and can’t watch it without squirming. American Pie probably has a lot to answer for, but some scenes remain enjoyable in the year of our Lord 2019. There are, I think, bits I can admit to laughing at without being added to the sex offenders’ register.
The first film introduced Jim (Jason Biggs), Oz (Klein), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) and Paul Finch (Thomas), losers hell-bent on losing their virginity before they left high school. In this task, they enlisted the dubious assistance of pumped-up frat boy Stiffler (Sean William Scott). It now all seems like real time capsule stuff – the pop punk, the baggy jeans, the near-mystical references to pre-Broadband internet – and certainly we could leave behind the movie’s attitude to sex, and by extension women, as a token to be collected.
There was, though, a grain of truth to American Pie that made it so fucking funny then, and which incites a (shameful) rush of nostalgia even now. Adolescent sexual embarrassment is such fertile ground for comedy because, to varying degrees, we’ve all been there. It’s why the 2012 sequel American Pie: Reunion wasn’t that funny: there wasn’t the same appalling sense of recognition of grotty adolescent bedrooms and burning dread on the walk to school. Yet one element remained strong throughout the franchise: Eugene Levey, his beloved bushy browed character Noah forever known as ‘Jim’s Dad’.
He was there in 1999, offering Jim unwanted sexual advice, and he was still there doing exactly the same in 2012. You have to admire the consistency. And who could possibly forget him, upon coming home from work to find Jim humping an apple pie in the kitchen, calmly reasoning, “We’ll just have to tell your mother that we… ate it all? Along the way, he defended a red-faced Jim, who had glued his hand to his penis (2001’s American Pie) and downplayed Jim and Stiffler being caught in a compromising position with a dog (2003’s American Wedding). Levy even appeared in the spin-off movies, dubbed American Pie Presents…, which in terms of gross-out managed to set the bar even lower than the main series (don’t watch American Pie Presents… Band Camp if you’re in any way squeamish).
Noah was the Dad we all needed, a genuinely thoughtful and caring figure who time and again attempted to give Jim some much-needed advice about the bewildering world of sex and its humiliations. Yes, he did give his teen son a bunch of porn magazines in the first movie, which was well-meant if misguided. But he also tried to impress upon Jim that sex is natural, sex is good, not everybody does it – but everybody should. Jim’s Dad’s was the noughties sex-positive icon that millions of teenage boys needed.
Committed an embarrassing faux pas that involved shaving off your pubes? Well, okay, not strictly necessary, but hey, knock yourself out – and don’t worry too much about it. Caught getting a blowjob from your fiancé-to-be in the middle of a crowded restaurant? Okay, not ideal, but somehow Noah, overwhelmed at Jim’s subsequent proposal, somehow turns it into a schmaltzy moment. This is all daft, over-the-top gross comedy, but the running thread is that Jim’s Dad shrugs it all off and encourages his son to do the same.
Am I saying I think there’s a moralistic, sex-positive message in the increasingly ropey American Pie movies, which were iffy – at the very best – to begin with? I am, a bit. For this we have Eugene Levy to thank. According to a 2016 interview with Time, Noah was originally a slightly grubbier character. “’I don’t want the guy to be a nudge-nudge, wink-wink friend with his son’,” Levy told the directors. “I want him to be a square dad, the kind your kids don’t want to be around because they’re too boring.” So they improvised his scenes and the funniest character in the movie – one of film’s funniest Dad’s was created.
I honestly think if more parents took Noah’s open approach to sex, Britain would be a less weird, repressed place. That’s why I found it strangely moving when, in American Pie: Reunion, a widowed Noah, at Jim’s behest, joins a dating site. Jim was repaying the kindness his Dad had always shown him (the key Noah scene: when he implores Jim’s mate’s to “Keep it real, homies!” in American Pie 2). In a small way, I do feel like Jim’s Dad helped to guide me through the embarrassments and small miseries of adolescence. Keep it real, homie.