This is the kind of event that only happens in LA. People who live in other cities will find it annoying that I’m even writing about it because it will seem like bragging. And people who do live in LA will be pissed because they weren’t able to go. Its okay though, because I never expected to be able to attend one of Jason Reitman’s Live Reads at LACMA, either. I am lucky enough to have a very nice co-worker (and friend, I’m willing to make that statement). And lucky is the word, because tonight’s reading of American Pie was like a bizarro masterpiece.
I was a little wary going into the experience. The concept is that a director (often Jason Reitman, but sometimes a guest) choose a film and ask actors to do a cold reading of it. Pretty straightforward. I had been anticipating going to one, and when I saw that guest directors Paul and Chris Weitz had chosen to present their own film, American Pie, I really wondered why. American Pie (1999) was definitely a formative film for a young boy like I was at the time; it has boobs and crude humor – both boxes on the adolescent’s checklist. But I have my doubts regarding the movie’s sustained quality over the last 15 years (especially in light of the truly terrible American Reunion a couple years back). I needn’t have worried, though because the Weitz brothers put together a cast that- well I’ll just let you take it in for yourself:
Ari Graynor (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) as Jim (originated by Jason Biggs)
Sarah Burns (I Love You Man) as Oz (originated by Chris Kline)
Olivia Wilde (Turistas) as Kevin (originated by Thomas Ian Nicholas)
Mike White (The School of Rock) as Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) and Jessica (Natasha Lyonne)
Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex) as Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) and Stifler’s Mom (Jennifer Coolidge)
Topher Grace (Mona Lisa Smile) as Vicky (Tara Reid)
Krysten Ritter (Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23) as Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas)
Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect) as Stifler (Seann William Scott) and Sherman (Chris Owen)
Sharon Stone (Catwoman) as Jim’s Dad (Eugene Levy)
John Cho (American Pie) as Heather (Mena Suvari)
So. fucking. awesome.
Gender inversion is not new to the Live Read series (one of Reitman’s first Live Reads featured an all-female cast reading Glengarry Glen Ross), and it is easy to see why. The mere juxtaposition of dialogue and performer already amps the comedy up to above average levels. Add in some inspired acting choices and you’re really cooking with gas.
All of the actors did great work. The biggest standouts were Sarah Burns as Oz and John Cho as Heather, Oz’s love interest. The two performers had a hilarious chemistry. Burns seems to be doing her best Chris Kline impression (which means terrible acting), while Cho delivered a legitimately good performance. They actually made the romance believable, which is an absurd statement to type, given the context of the reading. Michael Sheen, however, committed the hardest. He played Nadia as a James Bond villain, and he somehow played Stifler’s Mom more sultry than Jennifer Coolidge did. Honestly there are absolutely no complaints in the performance department. Everyone bought into the conceit immediately – even Sharon Stone, who was probably seeing this movie unfold for the first time.
The stripped-down nature of the reading also illuminated something else: how funny the original script of American Pie is. It’s nothing amazing, but I was surprised by how many times I laughed at a joke because it was actually funny, and not just because of the actor’s delivery. It is easy to see why the movie was made in the first place. The whole evening kind of makes me want to go back and watch the original film, but it’s probably best not to. Don’t want to sully my new memories.