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The American Pie Spin-Off That's Heating Up On Netflix

Bummed about Black Widow and No Time To Die being pushed back until next year? Well, don't worry, because there's still cinema to be enjoyed here in 2020. The ninth installment of the American Pie franchise, American Pie Presents: Girls' Rules, just dropped on Netflix. Subscribers are clearly itching for some lighthearted entertainment right now, as the film is currently on the streamer's list of the top 10 most viewed movies. Look out, I'm Thinking of Ending Things, you've got some competition!

In a stark contrast to the previous films in the series, the movie focuses on four female friends in their senior year of high school, namely Annie (Madison Pettis), Stephanie (Lizze Broadway), Michelle (Natasha Behnam), and Kayla (Piper Curda). This quartet is looking to meet hot guys and explore their sexuality, all while adhering to a set of guidelines for their last year before college. They vow to revamp how they date, support each other as women, and not let each other put up with BS.

If you're intrigued by this fresh take on the American Pie formula, but haven't dipped your toe in the franchise since the days of Stifler (Sean William Scott), here's what you need to know about American Pie Presents: Girls' Rules.

The surprisingly complex history of the American Pie franchise

Girls' Rules is far from the franchise's first spinoff. At the center of the American Pie universe are the four core movies, beginning with American Pie and ending with 2012's American Reunion, all of which feature the same recurring characters and a continuous plot. There are also five movies under the American Pie Presents label. Although they share strong thematic elements with the core films, there are very few narrative or character connections. With a few exceptions.

A couple of characters from the original franchise do appear in the subsequent spin-offs, the most notable being Noah Levenstein (played by Emmy-winner Eugene Levy), aka Jim's dad. The Stifler family also permeates the later films. His younger brother, Matt (Eli Marienthal and Tad Hilgenbrink), appears in American Pie Presents: Band Camp, while a trio of Stifler cousins star in The Naked Mile and Beta House. Girls' Rules has it's own take on the character in the form of Stephanie Stifler, a relative who retains the family's trademark bawdy approach to life.

The playful dirtbag humor, sex gags, and occasional sentimental moments that are hallmarks of the franchise were important to the director of Girls' Rules, Mike Elliott. However, given how much things have changed since the original movie premiered in 1999, he knew he had to do things differently this time around.

The director of Girls' Rules wanted to update the American Pie formula for 2020

Although this is Elliott's first time directing an American Pie movie, he has previously produced several entries into the American Pie Presents canon. During an interview with YouTube channel "The Valero Verdict," Elliott described how the focus of the movie changed dramatically during pre-production. He revealed that at first, "it wasn't going to be a girl's movie, it was going to be a senior trip movie. We played around with a few titles — the one I liked the most was Full Brazilian...we were going to shoot it in Brazil."

However, as the times changed, so did American Pie Presents: Full Brazilian. Elliott confessed that eventually, the team realized, "we couldn't really make that kind of movie anymore. We didn't even want to. We didn't lament it. We were like 'Okay, things are changing for the good, and let's just be part of the good things that are happening right now.' So we switched, and changed it to Girls' Rules."

The female-fronted cast, a first for the franchise, isn't the only way Elliott and his team tried to update the film. While talking about the movie with LRM, Elliott used the example of Girls' Rules version of the Stifler archetype, who is considerably less of a toxic jerk than her male kin. Elliott said this was because, "We didn't really want the girls fighting with each other, making like a catty thing. We wanted them more to work together."

These changes to the movie didn't go unnoticed by critics. However, just because the film made an attempt to improve its gender politics, doesn't necessarily mean it received rave reviews.

Critics appreciated the effort of American Pie Presents: Girls' Rules, but not the execution

Ushering the American Pie franchise into the #MeToo era is certainly an admirable task. However, at the end of the day, the film also has to be good. In the case of Girls' Rules, critics seemed to appreciate the effort, but weren't impressed with the final product. 

Teo Bugbee of the New York Times noted that Girls' Rules was missing the "mischievous pleasure" of the original films, and said, "The original American Pie was tasteless; this version is flavorless." They did, however, point out, "What this warmed-over sequel does provide is a naked demonstration of the changes in sexual politics since the 1990s. Humiliation is less of a kink for these kids than in generations past, and consent is a requirement, not a coincidence." Meanwhile, at Flickering Myth, Robert Kojder noted that the movie's all-male writing and directing team was at odds with its mission to put women front and center. He wrote, "American Pie is long past its shelf life, and I'm not entirely sure this movie would have ever been good, but it probably would have been more genuine and affecting if girls also ruled the majority of the production." Meanwhile, writing for the Sioux City Journal, Bruce Miller summarized his take on the film with, "Slice into it, if you must, but this American Pie needed more time in the oven. It's half-baked at best."

Mediocre reviews be damned! Clearly, Netflix viewers are living by the girls' rules and enjoying the latest slice of American Pie.