“They don’t make movies like that anymore” is the rallying battle cry of movie buffs mourning the fact that modern Hollywood has become no country for their old favorites. As a two-decade veteran of the film industry, Tara Reid speaks from experience when she wonders whether her 2002 collegiate comedy, Van Wilder, could be made today. “There are so many rules and regulations and stuff they just can’t do like they did back then,” the 42-year-old actress tells Yahoo Entertainment about the Animal House-inspired film, which premiered on Blu-ray on May 1. “It all has to be about women’s rights and everything being equal. There are certain things that guys can’t say anymore and women can’t do. There’s just a lot more rules to moviemaking.”
Released 16 years ago under the National Lampoon imprint, Van Wilder starred future superhero Ryan Reynolds as the titular smarmy, prank-happy seventh-year college senior and Reid as Gwen, a journalist who tries to expose his extracurricular activities. Watched again today, Van Wilder definitely does feel like it belongs to another era of studio-made comedies, back when executives and (white male) audiences alike didn’t necessarily raise eyebrows at creative choices like an Indian character named Taj (played by Kal Penn, who later got his own spinoff sequel) and comely coeds whose primary role is to be ogled by the camera. At the time, Reid says, there wasn’t any maliciousness motivating those broad portrayals of minorities and women. “You knew it wasn’t serious — you were making a movie,” says the star, who calls Van Wilder one of her favorite films. “It’s a joke. But people took it too seriously, and things got kind of crazy, so everything’s changed.”
It’s worth noting that similar objections could be raised about the comedy that Reid made before Van Wilder, 1999’s American Pie, which also has a number of jokes and sexual situations that have arguably aged poorly over the years. In both cases, though, she argues that focusing solely on the raunch factor — like, say, the scene in Van Wilder where obnoxious frat guys unwittingly chow down on pastries filled with dog semen, which even Reid admits is pretty awful — obscures what made both films a hit in the early 2000s. “I think there’s a lot of truth and heart in these films, and that’s what makes it work. It’s not about people being mean to each other; if anything we’re making fun of ourselves. There’s so much heart that people can relate to, and it’s so sweet. That’s one of the things we’ve gotten far away from today.”
It’s not as if raunchy comedy has gone away since Van Wilder, of course. Thanks to hits like Bridesmaids, Girls Trip, and Blockers, it’s just become an equal-opportunity offender. In the Van Wilder era, an extended comic set-piece based around the entire cast getting diarrhea would likely have been a guys-only gag. Then Bridesmaids came along and gender-flipped that particular script to laughs and cheers. On the other hand, it’s worth noting that the film’s co-writer and star, Kristen Wiig, has made it clear that she’s no fan of that sequence, and felt pressured to include it in the movie because, “They want to see women acting like guys.”
Similarly, Reid says that she’s not upset that Gwen was spared from participating from the grossest of the film’s gross-out moments, pointing out that it wouldn’t have been in keeping with her character. “She gave a guy diarrhea — that’s as far as she went. I would have loved to [do more] but it didn’t really fit the character. Now, they make comedies written for female empowerment, which didn’t really exist back then. They did their job correctly, and that’s one of the reasons the film lasts.”
Reid also credits her co-star with Van Wilder‘s staying power. “Ryan’s hilarious, so there was a lot of magic and energy [on set],” she remembers. “We knew we were making something fun that people would want to watch.” Although Reynolds never reprised the role beyond that first film — Van Wilder was absent from The Rise of Taj and Mean Girls star, Jonathan Bennett, took over the part in a 2009 direct-to-DVD prequel — that wiseacre persona he honed in 16 years ago has found its way into his other roles, up to and including Deadpool. “He’s not much different,” Reid jokes about watching Reynolds play Marvel’s sarcastic merc with a mouth 16 years after Van Wilder. “He can just fly and do a lot more things now.”
Van Wilder is now available on Blu-ray and digital.
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