Friday Film Review: Superbad


Superbad is essentially a raunch-fest with a heart of gold. It’s an autobiographical tale (I’m assuming) inspired by the lives of co-writers Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen -- who of course named the two leads after themselves. The film is astonishingly foul-mouthed in a confident way. The point isn’t to use a bunch of dirty words. However, it delves into a sophisticated rhythm and flow -- while also representing sad, deep yearning through the protagonists. Judd Apatow produced this vulgar antidote to High School Musical with the pitch-perfect script that doesn’t step out of character for a joke.

Superbad follows two high school seniors named Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera). Together, they set off on a night’s long journey into the soul. Seth and Evan have been inseparable since middle school, mainly because they are both equally unpopular. It is three weeks until school ends, bringing to mind the ancient truism that if you haven’t had sex yet and don’t have sex soon, you will never have had sex in high school. This is the “ultimate” embarrassment.

Time is running out for both of the boys. Evan will depart for Dartmouth alongside his other classmate Fogell (newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse). This effectively leaves behind the academically challenged Seth. Seth is the pudgy, curly haired one, and Evan is the thin one with worried eyes. They both lust for every girl in school -- hoping they will get the opportunity to eventually “bag some ladies” (as Fogell insists on calling it). To their wonderment, Seth and Even are invited to a party on the last night of school by the ever-popular Jules (Emma Stone). She then belatedly informs them that she actually needs to buy booze for the gathering. Seth, trying to impress, insists that he is able to grab the alcohol for her in the illusory hope that she will have sex with him afterwards.

Evan and Seth leave the task of obtaining a fake ID to Fogell. Fogell -- who is a big reason why the hot and hilarious Superbad packs more gut-busting laughs than one can count -- is so unpopular that he is even unpopular with his own group of friends. He creates a drivers license that cites his age as 25, his home state as Hawaii, and his name (just one word) as McLovin. Mintz-Plasse, who had never acted before (he was in high school at the time), makes this character a geek for the ages. Long after you’ve forgotten a decade of Oscar winners, you’ll remember McLovin. The boys have one excruciating scrape after another. This includes getting involved in a liquor store robbery, consorting with unsavory types at another party, and ending up in the hands of two wayward cops (Seth Rogen and Bill Hader). Ultimately, they arrive at their final destination.

The director of Superbad, Greg Mottola, doesn’t leave very much of an imprint. This is no surprise given Apatow's prior reputation as a hands-on creator. Apatow shamelessly stacks the deck in favor of his underdogs -- though his intentions are generally righteous. His humor also doesn’t depend too heavily on flat jokes or filmmaking. Apatow traffics in such a cute, cuddly vision of modern masculinity that it seems rude to wonder if it’s self flattering or cunningly opportunistic. Superbad is a hallmark of Apatow's films thus far, whatever his role in it may be. The situations and characters are endowed with extra dimensions of humanity, insecurity, and weakness. It may be more overly comedic than The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Knocked Up, but its thoughtfulness and darkness are still notable for a genre so dedicated to money moments and empty surfaces.

Playing typical teenage boys and clueless fools, Hill and Cera fit so easily together. One can actually believe they’ve known each other for years. Cera moves like one of those teenagers whose body hasn’t fully caught up with his newly reached height. With his wide-open face and innocent smile, he looks absolutely amazed when the girl of his dreams (Martha MacIsaac) just so happens to share his same feelings. Seth comes off genuinely obnoxious at most moments and amusingly assertive, which adds to the realism. He’s worried Evan will go to Dartmouth and punk out on their friendship, leaving him to grow up like the two cops.

Superbad is neither the salvation of cinematic comedy, nor is it easily dismissed as just another teen comedy. While Goldberg and Rogen based the script upon their own adolescent experiences, the three leads are drawn broadly enough that it’s practically impossible to watch this film without reflecting on one's own high school experience. Superbad works because no matter how unapologetically vulgar their words are, these boys are good, decent, and true. They never take cruel or callous advantage. It’s a film about friendship. Heralded as an instant teen classic on the level of Dazed and Confused and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, this film is powered by a comedy dream team.

Image Source: Letterboxd

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