How ‘American Pie’ Can Help You Be the Best Version of Yourself—Yes, Really
SUCCESS Movie Rewind is a family-friendly podcast—we want this to be a podcast you can play with your children in the car. But we also have a mission: to dive to the depths of the cultural waters in which we are swimming to find pearls of personal development wisdom.
That search sometimes requires us to look at touchy subject matters. What I’m trying to say is that we’re talking about the 1999 bro-comedy classic film American Pie today, and it’s full of sensitive subjects.
This is not a movie that has held up well under the lens of an evolving social conscience over the past two-plus decades—it didn’t even hold up in 1999, really. But it’s a pie of a film that’s filled with something that might surprise you: tasty nuggets of personal development wisdom, which we are now calling SUCCESS Movie Mementos (in honor of aspirational friend of the podcast Christopher Nolan).
So let’s do this. Welcome back to SUCCESS Movie Rewind, the only podcast to ever use the word “wisdom” in a sentence describing American Pie.
You’ve got to be careful with the corsage.
We’re not going in chronological order for the takeaways this week. Our first SUCCESS Movie Memento comes near the end of the film, when central character Jim Levenstein (Jason Biggs) is talking to his dad (Eugene Levy) before prom. Jim’s dad has just one thing he wants to say to his son:
“I want you to be very, very careful when you’re putting on the corsage,” he says. “Promise me.”
That’s SUCCESS Movie Memento No. 1 for this week: You’ve got to be careful with the corsage. And I love this metaphor in the movie. Without going too deeply into the central plot of the film, we have the flower metaphor, we have some blooming happening, and then there’s the birds and the bees, of course.
The corsage itself presents this interesting duality—you’ve got this beautiful, delicate flower, but you also have the pin side that can prick you and cause pain.
Here’s the thing, and I mean this seriously: We are all beautiful, unique flowers. We all have the bloom of infinity inside of us. We have to be careful with one another and with ourselves—our own corsages—especially when we’re being vulnerable.
You want things—acceptance, success, love, happiness—and so does everyone else. We’re all trying to get there in our own ways, so let’s be careful with each other as we do that.
You don’t need a conductor to sing from your heart.
Before I got ready for this week’s episode, it had been a really long time since I had seen American Pie. I’m not totally sure I had really watched it from start to finish—I just caught parts here and there when it came on TV. So I had forgotten this great character: Chris “Oz” Ostreicher (Chris Klein).
He’s one of the five main high school seniors featured in the movie, and he’s this affable jock, a star on the lacrosse team. He’s pretty close with Steve Stifler, but he’s a nice guy. And he wants something more than what jock-dom has to offer. In addition to the raunchy hijinks that drive the film’s plot, his interest in what’s beyond the world of high school sports is part of what leads him to start going to choir.
He hesitates to admit it, but he’s an artist at heart, and he wants to sing his heart out. We get this great scene where he keeps on singing at the end of a song in choir when everyone else has stopped, and it’s this silly, soulful bit of “scooby dooby” vocal jazz. To his surprise, when the choir conductor asks him what that outburst was, she is asking because she liked it. She tells him to keep it up.
That’s it—our second SUCCESS Movie Memento for this week: You don’t need a conductor to sing from your heart.
When we’re trying to create or innovate, we often guard ourselves a bit. We follow the rules and probe cautiously to see if we can come up with anything. Rarely, if ever, do we really bust it out—whether it’s singing, painting, ideating for your business, whatever. But remember: You don’t have to follow the rules when you’re in the drafting phase. You can let it all out and sing from the heart. It’s scary to do sometimes, but what comes out is often delightful, if not downright beautiful.
The infinite game has no scoreboard.
I’ll just come right out with our third Memento for this week: The infinite game has no scoreboard. That, of course, requires some context:
As it turns out, scheduling just isn’t Ostreicher’s thing. On the same night, he has a duet with his girlfriend Heather (Mena Suvari) and the lacrosse championship. He initially chooses the lacrosse championship, and we get to see the classic teen sports movie speech from the coach.
As the coach is trying to inspire the athletes to go out there and win, Ostreicher gets up and leaves, much to his coach’s surprise and disappointment. He’s sprinting across campus in his lacrosse uniform, headed straight for the choir performance.
In addition to this scene itself, I’m drawing inspiration for our third SUCCESS Movie Memento from a book by James P. Carse called Finite and Infinite Games. In it, he says that there are at least two kinds of games. Finite games are those with a clear purpose and objective, with a way to keep some semblance of a score. A lacrosse game is a great example.
But there’s really only one infinite game, and it’s the big one—the one whose only universal objective is to keep on playing it as long as possible. It’s life and living, like sprinting across a high school campus in your lacrosse uniform to sing and be with someone you care about. That’s a game with no scoreboard, and it’s one we should all be playing a lot more of as we push through our day-to-day lives.
It’s time to say bye-bye to this American Pie episode of SUCCESS Movie Rewind. But don’t despair—we’ll be back next week. See you then.
Alex Stevens invented motivational media criticism and reinvents the genre every week on SUCCESS Movie Rewind. Alex is also a lawyer, creative consultant, and artist, sometimes all at once. Alex lives with his family in Dallas, Texas.
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