Film and television series are special kinds of art forms in that they, along with their audiences, can grow.
A generation is introduced to characters. Some time later, the generation (now older) is reunited with the same characters—characters who, even if subtly, have changed. And this will happen again, for as many installments as the series is able to produce. These types of changes are not arbitrary. Especially with films targeted initially at younger audiences, the growth of the characters mirrors the growth experienced by their viewers. It is reflective of growth in general, a universal phenomenon, but also of the times, as each generation, effected by their own world, grows, thinks and feels uniquely. This is why movies and movie series always mean more to those who "grew up with them" than it could to anyone born too early or too late to fit into this prime understanding and relatability to these specific characters.
American Pie debuted in 1999, targeted at contemporary teens and preteens. It was one of the first movies made specifically for these people, and made specifically about these people. It was something this generation could grasp onto, and talk about, and idealize, and aspire to...however shameful that may sound to our predecessors. There was a connectivity to these characters because the movie was essentially not about sex, but about growing up and changing, and about the inevitability of these things (for better or for worse). The movie was laden with overtones about the ending of cherished relationships and lifestyles, but also about the excitement and promise of things to come. Even for those not exactly at the high school graduating age of the film's heroes, it was a palpable sentiment.
In 2001, the change had been instituted: American Pie 2 returned our heroes—all of them, in fact—to each other's sides. The film, beyond returning the East Great Falls High School alumni to the antics that made the first film so provocative, actually examined the changes that would have organically taken place among this group since graduating high school. Many of the characters were unwilling to acknowledge these changes. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), for example, had a difficult time accepting that he and Vicky (Tara Reid) were not the same together, and would probably never be. Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) was still pining for his first love, Stifler's Mom (Jennifer Coolidge). Beyond all examined was central hero Jim's (Jason Biggs) maturation, reflected both by his newfound appreciation of Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) and, more subtly, and more meaningfully, in his newfound appreciation of his father (Eugene Levy).
The third film, American Wedding. saw an even more significant change, markedly in tone. The antics, albeit still present, had taken a backseat to a drier, more serious voice. This film was about marriage, one of the most adult themes imaginable. Stifler (Seann William Scott) himself had become a character of more substance and emotionality. And, most of all, there was no sign of Oz (Chris Klein), who was painted as Jim's best friend in the first film. Although this was less an artistic choice than it was a casting issue, the absence of Oz was authentic. It cemented the notions put forth by the first two movies: people lose touch, grow apart, and leave one another's lives.
And now, finally, American Reunion. Upon watching the slideshow (included at the bottom of this article), do not be surprised if you feel overwhelmed by emotionality, especially if you are a member of the described generation. These people, all of these people, are back together. This does not promise anything phony. They will not all be best friends again. They are adults now, existing separately, but brought together by the mutual force of their high school reunion.
This film, more than any of the other three, has a chance to be truly sincere because it is more grown-up, more aware. When American Pie took place, the four main characters assumed nothing could ever change between them, or within them. So did the generation watching that film. It's natural to assume that when you're young. But age opens your mind to change and opens your heart to all of the goods and bads that come with it. Amidst the American Pie characters, relationships have ended. It is likely that Jim and Oz have not seen each other in almost a decade. It is more likely that Kevin has not spoken to Vicky since that summer after freshman year of college. But these characters have the insuperable fortune to be put together to experience one another once again. And we have the same fortune to experience this reunion. This is not simply a rehashing of old gags or a chance to make more sex jokes. It is an experience to understand the growth and changes that these characters, our generation's character's, have undergone, both within each of themselves and in regards to one another. And it is a chance to look at those changes in regards to ourselves.
All this was inspired by this American Reunion slideshow, which was (surprisingly) an honest-to-goodness moving watch.