2020 saw the release of the newest movie in American Pie Presents direct-to-DVD movie, Girls’ Rules. The fifth movie in the direct-to-video series, it also marked the longest break between movies in the series (8 years).
By design, this movie reverses all the old American Pie narratives. The lead character is a black female with a diverse group of female friends (only one is a Caucasian female). The plot focuses on a morp (or reverse prom) where high school girls ask boys out. Although it reverses roles, it rarely challenges gender conventions as much as it upholds them. While the film focuses on female characters, it tends to present them from a very masculine perspective. The male leads tend to be the put upon relatable characters, while many of the female characters tend to be portrayed as crazy and over the top.
The Original American Pie
The original American Pie came out in 1999. An instant success, it earned 235.5 million on an 11-million-dollar budget. This lead to three sequels and now five direct to DVD sequels.
Girls’ Rules sharply contrasts the original American Pie. According to the filmmakers on the DVD commentary, the original strived for a realistic storytelling style and used minimal wacky sound effects. The original film’s prom portrays the original prom as terrible, while this morp dance seems fun. A joke cut from the original (a child watching teenagers have sex) appears in this one. While the original portrays guys watching a foreign exchange student without her consent, this film emphasizes consent to the hilt. All of these decisions create a much different movie.
Many gross-out jokes happened in the original. The opening has the lead character Jim Levenstein (Jason Biggs) trying to masturbate to blocked channels, only to have his parents walk in. Other big jokes included Jim having sex with a pie and trying to have sex with a foreign exchange student (Shannon Elizabeth) on camera. These became known throughout the series.
Along with all the gross-out jokes, the film focused on the camaraderie between its male characters. After having sex, the guys reconnect one last time at a restaurant. Throughout the Direct to DVD series, the final scenes often focused on a group of male friends after having sex. Even if it seemed perfunctory, the audience saw an ending that solidified the friendship.
Since the Last Movie
Since it’s been nearly ten years since the last theatrical release for American Pie (11 years for a direct-to-DVD sequel), a lot has changed in the world. Almost every lead actor in this was a child when the last movie came out. When Beta House came out in 2007, Girls’ Rules star Madison Pettis starred in The Game Plan as Dwayne Johnson’s young child.
Since the release of the last films, more comedies about women and female sexuality had come out too. The main group seems similar to the characters in Bridesmaids (2011). 2020 alone saw a direct-to-DVD sex comedy about a female protagonist (A Nice Girl Like You). All of these factors added into making female-driven version of the film.
In their senior year, a group of high school girls (Madison Pettis, Piper Curda, Natasha Benham, Lizze Broadway) make a pact to fulfill their individual romantic and sexual desires. They agree to make all this happen before their reverse prom.
The World of the Film
Like the last Direct-to-DVD movie (The Book of Love (2009)), the film takes place in a more cartoonish world. This includes cartoonish sound effects and jokes. Multiple jokes in the opening scene have the lead character going through cartoonish motions to have sex. These include choking on a dental dam and falling out of a window onto a cat.
Like that film, Girls’ Rules also features many older celebrities in bit parts. This includes Barry Bostwick (Brad in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)) and Danny Trejo. Credited with an “introducing” credit, Bostwick plays one of the character’s grandfathers, known as “PeePaw.” Trejo plays the janitor Mr. Garcia, who mostly reacts to the other characters’ hijinks. He appears in a few scenes in the film (including a post-credits scene), but pretty much appears as a joke rather than a fully constructed character.
This is also a movie written and by older men that focuses on teenage girls. A joke early in the movie talks about Charlie’s Angels as the “seventies TV show” and not “the Drew Barrymore movies.” Throughout the story, the film many references to old movies, TV shows, and figures.
The film’s comedy style seems closer to screwball comedy or farce. Many characters have multiple connections to the plot and characters (such as an older woman being the principal of the school and mother of the main love interest). The lead couple bickers into love like Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. The comedy storytelling builds to bigger jokes and set pieces every time.
In terms of the visual style, the film’s style mainly focuses on emphasizing the comedy and many storylines. The film uses split-screen and montage to often interconnect the many narrative threads. This includes a scene of a character masturbating while another character eats a pie.
While the film mostly takes place in the real world, it has a few fantasy sequences, mostly from lead character Annie (played by Pettis). The first one has Annie having a sex dream about the male lead. In this dream, all of the backgrounds appear as drawings displayed over a green screen set. The second one has Annie imagining losing her virginity versus walking on her current boyfriend having sex with another woman.
The film follows the sexuality of women. Unlike the original series and direct to DVD series, the film emphasizes the morality of the sexual situation. This film probably focuses more explicitly on consent than the previous American Pie movies. The films portray the two of the main male villains as sexual predators. Consent is talked about explicitly in the dialogue.
The film probably represents the most chaste of the American Pie movies. The film also contains less nudity than the rest of the series. Most all of the female characters decide to wear bras and panties while having sex. The closest the audience comes to seeing nudity is cleavage. Almost all the sexuality is played more for comedy rather than titillation.
The Creative Team
A few familiar people return to this movie. Original series creator Adam Herz serves as an executive producer. Like the last direct-to-video film, David H. Steinberg returns to this film as a writer. After his entry into the American Pie direct-to-DVD market, Steinberg branched out into more direct-to-video sequels to movies over a decade old (Kindergarten Cop 2 (2016), Bigger Fatter Liar (2017), Grand-Daddy Daycare (2019)).
This time he is joined by actor and screenwriter Blayne Weaver, who makes an appearance in the film as Mr. Sawyer, the father of one of the lead characters. Like Steinberg, Weaver had written a few sequels to major movies (The Prince & Me 3: A Royal Honeymoon (2008), Honey 2 (2011)).
This time, Mike Elliott directs. A pioneer of direct-to-video content and producer of over a hundred direct-to-video sequels, this marks the third American Pie Presents movie Elliott has produced and the first he directed.
Connection to the Main Series
In this movie, pie is used as more of a motif. It appears multiple times in characters’ homes. Twice, parents walk upstairs with a pie, only to find the kids in compromising positions. The film also makes a small joke about them using cherry pie instead of the original’s apple.
This is the first movie in the series that does not feature the Eugene Levy character, Noah Levenstein. Instead, new awkward parents come in to take his place. Director Elliott said that they tried to replace Levy with other awkward parents.
This series does have a Stifler character, Stephanie Stifler. Stifler also plays lacrosse, the sport in the original film. Unlike the previous entries in the direct-to-DVD series, Stephanie acts as a more of an accepted member of the group. However, she still has the sexual appetite of her male counterparts.
Women in ‘Girls Rules’
In Girls’ Rules, the ladies seem to be looking for great guys to have sex with rather than just sex itself. The pact they make focuses on getting with great guys. The film introduces each female protagonist in the middle of a sexual situation rather than just one of them. However, the sexuality in the film seems to focus less on the embarrassing parts of sex, except with the lead character.
A virgin, Annie wants her first time to be special. She has a college-age boyfriend who lives far away. While Annie has some similarities to the series protagonist Jim Levenstein, her storyline more closely correlates with the main couple of that movie, Kevin and Vicky (Thomas Ian Nicholas and Tara Reid), and other less comedic characters.
At the beginning of the film, Annie tries to have sex with her boyfriend Jason (Zayne Emory). This leads to an embarrassing situation that literally causes her to fall out of a third-story window. This joke means that Annie can literally survive anything.
Many of Annie’s bits seem to come from other movies. The film borrows two American Pie tropes twice for her (pies and parents walking in at inopportune times). Annie tries on vibrating panties, but eventually finds somebody else accidentally controls of them. This joke also appears in The Ugly Truth (2009). Similarly, Annie has an expectations-versus-reality scene that seems similar to one from (500) Days of Summer (2009). All of these jokes seem a little older than their original telling.
A female Stifler, Stephanie (Lizze Broadway), tends to set up the parties and events. Like her male counterparts, she acts as debaucherously (she sees sex as dirty and raunchy, rather than Annie’s romanticized version of it). However, she seems more monogamist than her other counterparts. Her friends want her to find a “nice guy” to be with.
In Stifler’s introduction, she seduces predatory principal Shankman (Robert Peters), who has offered her sex multiple time. She then blackmails him into retiring so he will stop sexually harassing female students.
Throughout Stephanie’s story, she pretty much controls every situation she puts herself in. Unlike many of the other characters, she seems in control of everything. She never really has to struggle as much. In asking how to attract boys, Stephanie says to use the “damsel in distress” shit because it motivates them to feel like “we actually need them.”
Kayla (Piper Curda) has issues with boyfriends. Throughout the story, the film portrays her as being a bit much and oblivious.
The first time the audience sees Kayla, she has raunchy sex with her boyfriend Tim (Camaron Engels). Mainly the audience sees clothes laying around and legs flailing around. Everything seems to be going fine until Kayla snoops through his phone.
Throughout the story, Kayla’s behavior comes into question. Her behavior afterward leads to Tim breaking up with her. Kayla also sneaks into Grant’s room and takes pictures wearing his lacrosse jersey to make it seem like he slept with her. She does all of this to make Tim jealous.
Unashamed of her sexuality, the film introduces Michelle (Natasha Behnam) masturbating with a vibrator to John F. Kennedy. She uses sex balls at a public party (the audience hears them clack inside of her). Over the course of the film, she will use sex toys more than any other group. She knows the first name of the owner of the local sex shop.
Michelle is probably the clumsiest and most accident-prone member of the group. Throughout the story, she runs into things. The character sort of resembles the Melissa McCarthy character from Bridesmaids. The character has the most freakish sexuality of any character in the movie. However, her sexuality is more for her than the male audience.
Miss Fisher (Sara Rue) is the principal of the school. Annie and Michelle first meet her at a sex shop. She acts like a sexual teacher to Annie as she buys her sex toy. When she meets Annie again in front of her dad, she says that they met at “the library,” where she checked out “Moby Dick” while Annie got a romance novel.
Throughout the story, the film reveals her as having an explicit hedonistic nature. Michelle looks up to her and sees her as a strong female role model. Eventually, Michelle goes to her for advice on how to attract the attention of her son. This leads to her recommending another mate. For the first time, Michelle sees the dream partner because of principal Fisher.
In a post-credits film, Miss Fisher has BDSM sexual contact with Annie’s dad and the janitor Mr. Garcia.
Men in ‘Girls Rules’
Unlike the previous entries in the series, the male characters become the opposite sex in the movie. Elliott and the other filmmakers wanted to avoid making the story about men as much as possible.
Throughout the film, the over the top female characters (with the exception of Annie) often pursue the reluctant male characters. The film portrays almost every female character as over the top and almost every male character as put upon.
A scene at the beginning of the story reveals that the female characters have few desirable guys at their guys to choose from to fulfill their desires. Over the course of the story, the male characters that win over many of the women turn out to be nice guys, sexual underdogs, or both. On the other side of the binary sit sexual predators and misogynists.
A guy that all four female leads become attracted to, Grant Fisher (Darren Barnet) has just moved into town with his mom, who also turns out to be the Principal of the school. Over the first act, Grant provides each girl with what she wants the most. He gives Michelle a helpful hand when she crashes into a door. With Kayla, he decides to help make her boyfriend jealous. Stephanie knocks him out with a lacrosse ball. After she pursues him a little bit, she vows that he will be hers.
However, eventually, he finally sets eyes on Annie. Grant accidentally walks in on a private sexual experience. Instead of finding it gross, Grant finds it endearing. He also does not understand why she is with Jason.
Eventually, Grant agrees to tutor Annie in French. To visually suggest French, the film shows them both wear berets. Grant also holds up a frog. In a dream, they speak exclusively in French. The film mainly uses French because of its archetypal presentation as the language of love. Over the course of lessons, they grow closer to each other. Grant eventually admits his feelings to her. Discovering that Grant likes Annie causes the female friends to root for their relationship and lose any attraction they have for him.
When Grant discovers their pact, it causes him to leave Annie. This causes their friends to rally together in order to get them back together. The group sets up a tent on the school football field for them to have sex in. Unlike the rest of the sex in the story, Annie and Grant have more conventional sex with Grant on top. The sequence focuses on their scene as the emotional focal point of the story.
Annie’s boyfriend who has just gone to college, Jason struggles to keep his relationship together. Annie gets worried about him sleeping with college co-eds when she sees him at a party with “college sluts.” After this, she decides to make her goal to lose her virginity to “the man she loves.”
When Annie finally decides to go to Michigan State, she walks in on Jason having sex with his math tutor. When Annie tries to pleasure Jason orally at the beginning of the film, she wears a dental dam to not contract an STD from her boyfriend. Here, the math tutor also wears a dental dam. As he leaves, the tutor calls him an “asshole.” Jason then chases after Annie dressed in nothing but a bedsheet. Annie has a conversation with him, where she gets over it very quickly.
Jason then shows up at a party to tell Grant about the girls’ pact. This causes Grant to leave, but not without getting mad at Jason’s disrespectful behavior. Although everything goes wrong for Annie, but she realizes that Jason was the wrong guy for her. She decides that even if she does not end up with Grant, things will work out for the better for her. When she finally reconnects with Grant in the end, it is with “the man she loves,” calling back the quote at the beginning.
As Kayla’s respectful boyfriend, Tim calls her his princess, his lobster, and says he cherishes her, all while having sex. For most of the film, he seems exasperated by the absurd situations he gets put in.
Kayla and Tim break up at the beginning of the movie after Kayla finds another woman’s number on his phone and sends her a text message telling her he has Syphilis. Tim reveals this woman is his cousin and physical therapist. The scene also suggests that Kayla does not really listen to him that much.
After making Tim jealous with Grant, she uses him to have ex-sex. This leads them to a “no strings attached” sexual relationship. Throughout the film, Kayla has lots of sex with Tim, but the film portrays it less as loving and more as comedic and absurd. At some point, Stephanie helps Kayla realize the unfulfilling nature of her sexual relationship with Tim.
At the climax, Kayla gets Tim to say he wants her, but he does not want her “violating his trust.” They reconnect for the final time and compromise. In the final sex scene, they have sex in the bathroom after reconnecting at a party at Stephanie’s house. Only a girl in the next stall hears them. Despite all of Kayla’s behavior, she still gets the guy without as much need to change.
A friend of Stephanie’s many years ago, Emmett (Zachary Gordon) drifted apart after she told the entire school he peed his pants in fifth grade. The film portrays Emmett as more intellectual and book smart than the party animal Stephanie.
She reconnects to spy on Grant and find out how to get his attention. However, over the course of the story, more signs about Emmett’s affections begin to emerge. When Stephanie realizes that Annie likes Grant, her feelings for Emmett become more pronounced.
Emmett wins Stephanie over when he stands up to the misogynistic and southern Rhett McCormick (Lucas Adams) after he reveals that he has been telling people they had sex with each other. When McCormick punches him out, Stephanie hits him in the balls, knocks him out, and tells him to leave. This suggests that Emmett and Stephanie truly care for each other.
He becomes the nice guy that Stephanie has searched for, but also has another secret. When the virginal Emmett finally sleeps with Stephanie, he revealed he has a large penis. The character proves to be a sexual underdog for Stephanie’s affections.
A student aid that Michelle does not notice at first, Oliver (Christian Valderrama) carries the torch for her. Like Michelle, he loves John F. Kennedy and even does an impression of him. He also acts as clumsily as Michelle does.
At the end, Michelle accidentally hits Oliver with her car when he runs in front of it to stop it. He ends up admitting his love for her. In the end scene, Oliver ends up having sex with Michelle on the desk. The whole time he holds a dildo with JFK’s head on it. It also reveals he has “nasty” tattooed across her chest.
As the divorced father of Annie, Kevin (Ed Quinn) has a very raunchy storyline. Sexually frustrated since his divorce, he finds immediate sexual attraction with Miss Fisher. She returns it. The film features multiple visual crosscutting of such attraction. This includes close-ups of their mouth and eyes. Miss Fisher also uses a hose on herself, causing Kevin to accidentally do the same.
Kevin also has a much more cynical relationship to his daughter than the characters in the original film have to their parents. When they go to a party at Miss Fisher’s house, Kevin makes a point to Annie that she better mingle with the others at the party and not “cockblock” him. He says what she wants does not matter in this situation. Annie, later on, walks in on him making out on the couch as they walk in. Kevin refers to them as “what I believe the kids call F buddies.”
A later scene has her confiding in her scene after breaking up with Jason. He reassures her and tells her he never liked the guy after putting his picture face down. This is about as much of a parental relationship as the audience gets to see.
At the end of the movie, Miss Fisher tells Annie that will stop seeing Kevin because she knows it is just a fling. In many ways, this represents the opposite of the relationship of the awkward but lovable relationship that Noah Levenstein had with his son Jim in the original film. Throughout most of the film, he seems interested in having sex more than his daughter’s well-being.
Girls’ Rules features many firsts for the American Pie series. Unlike the previous movies, it focuses on characters that the series would not normally focus on. Each one of these characters had become more prominent than before.
Despite reversing the roles, the filmmakers do not seem to have much to say about female friendship. The first shot features Annie kissing her boyfriend rather than scene of her getting to know her and her friends. The ladies seem to be friends mainly for the plot. At one point, Stephanie says that Annie is her best friend, even though the audience has not really seen them together outside of a group setting. Based on the interactions, Michelle seems much closer to her best friend than Stephanie. The friendship the film emphasizes also tends to be both male and female rather than principally female.
Finally, after all the girls have sex in a four-way split screen, the film cuts to the end credits rather than having a scene focusing on the characters’ friendships. The Film ends on a dance sequence featuring each one of the actors.