August 18, 2007

Superbad (08/18/07)

Lettergrade: B

There's nothing especially original about Superbad, but a lot of what happens in it is very funny. At it's core, the plot is not too dissimilar from that of Porky's or the first American Pie movie: A bunch of high school guys, mere days from graduation, scheme to get some intimate female contact before moving on to college. It's hard to put my finger on what makes this movie significantly better than those movies, but it probably has to do with the overall attitude the movie has toward its material. Unlike the aforementioned flicks, there's more of an emphasis here on the nature of teenage friendships and the transitional shifts that happen when high-school draws to a close and the trappings of adulthood approach: college, personal responsibility, a more serious kind of dating, and at the least the distant possibility of having sex every now and again. The jokes are just as wonderfully vulgar here as they were in the genre's predecessors, but it is the unique, well-captured element of teenage awkwardness (quite familiar to me) that makes the characters a bit more relatable than those in your average dick-in-a-pie movie.

I've heard more than one person wonder aloud if high school boys are really as sex-obsessed as Evan (Michael Cera), Seth (Jonah), and the scene-stealing Fogel - aka 'McLovin' - are. From what I remember, we pretty much were. I appreciate, however, that while our leads seem to think that everyone else is having all sort of crazy, debaucherous sex, the movie is smart enough to know very few people in high school actually are. Structured around the loose premise that the boys need to get some booze for a party being thrown by the girl Seth likes, most of the movie takes place over the course of one evening.

Superbad was produced by Judd Apataow, who wrote and directed The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. Like those pictures, this one has a lot of random jokes and scenes which manage to blend the gross-out comedy with a good date flick. Apatow's movies remind me of the golden age of John Hughes in the 80s in that he's consistently made a certain kind of project that somewhat defies genre stereotyping.

The screenplay for this one was written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, childhood friends who were also both writers on Da Ali G Show back when it started on HBO in 2003. The Superbad main characters are also named Seth and Evan, and several of "movie Seth's" speeches remind me a hell of a lot of Rogen's presumably improvised rants in Apatow's previous movies. Rogen himself appears in this movie alongside Saturday Night Live's Bill Hader as a pair of truly awful cops who take McLovin on their nightly patrol after he gets mixed up in a liquor store robbery.

Although the film is consistently entertaining, certain sequences feel a little arbitrary or abnormally padded out. The scenes with Rogen, Hader, and McLovin', for example, are really funny, but they almost feel like they're from another movie entirely. At times the movie spends so much energy detailing their exploits that we almost lose track of what Evan and Seth are concurrently up to.

Minor bitches and complaints aside, though, one of the movie's key insights is that Evan and Seth are just as insecure about about themselves as they are about sex or anything else. This idea manifests itself in multiple ways throughout the picture, but most significantly through McLovin'. Easily the most ripe target for ridicule by the other characters in the picture, he learns through his adventures over the night to basically forge ahead toward whatever he wants in life and to wear his badge proudly, no matter how he may be perceived by everyone around him. It's the sort of life-lesson that you wish you could impart to every angst-ridden teenager, but that most of us, unfortunately, had to learn along the way.

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