There are two key things for you to know about "Superbad," the latest film from the cinematic world of Judd Apatow and his merry minstrels of movie mayhem:
1) You will laugh your ass off. You might as well go ahead and accept it. "Superbad" is a foul-mouthed, raunchy, sex-obsessed and frequently tasteless journey through the minds and penises of teenage boys. You will hate yourself for it, but you will laugh. You may laugh with the boys or at the boys, but you will laugh.
2) Laughter alone does not a stellar film make. Those of you who've lived through the "Porky's" films, "American Pie" films or the endless slew of 80's teen sex comedies will find yourself, on many occasions, going "been there, seen that." While "Superbad" is a frequently funny film, I dare say that it's also a film for which you'll find yourself looking back thinking things like "That didn't really make much sense," "That was stupid" or "I wish they'd done more with this storyline or that character."
The end conclusion from these two key points is that "Superbad" is neither the salvation of cinematic comedy, as some will proclaim it, nor is it to be easily dismissed as just another teen comedy.
As directed by Greg Mottola (the movie "Daytrippers" along with "Arrested Development" and "Undeclared") based upon a script that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg originally wrote in their early teens, "Superbad" achieves the almost impossible balance of being both classic teen sex raunchfest and yet also a surprisingly tender and insightful film similar in nature to Apatow's recent "40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up."
"Superbad" revolves around the comic friendships of high school seniors Evan (Michael Cera), Seth (Jonah Hill) and the soon to be forever named McLovin (newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse). The boys are two weeks away from graduation, and their every thought has turned to pending goodbyes, senior class parties and, yes, way overdue endings to their not so prized virginities.
While Rogen and Goldberg reportedly based the script upon their own adolescent experiences, the three leads are drawn broadly enough that it's practically impossible to watch the three boys without reflecting upon one's own high school days, either BEING one of these three boys or having a friend who closely resembled one of the three.
The script, undoubtedly reworked over the years, nonetheless works because it genuinely feels like the inner workings of the adolescent mind. Parents are unlikely to embrace "Superbad," because it will not only remind them of their own misdeeds but also serve to remind them what their own children are doing when mom and dad are not around.
Of course, I'm not saying that I actually did any of these things during my own high school years.
Despite appearing rather obviously older than a high school senior, up-and-coming comic actor Jonah Hill ("Evan Almighty" and "Knocked Up") has a natural comic instinct that serves his character well. Hill's Seth is a raunchy, sex-obsessed and foul-mouthed young man who openly acknowledges being willing to do just about anything to get laid, but whose inherent sense of rightness, decency and a touch of low self-esteem create just the right amount of sensitivity despite his frequent rate of insensitivity.
Cera's Evan, on the other hand, is a more shy, slightly more intelligent nerd headed to Dartmouth post-graduation and who thinks about sex about as often as Seth but romanticizes it so intensely that it's hard not to wonder if any girl will really ever present him with the right time and right place. Much like Seth, Evan possesses an inherent decency that doesn't allow him to take advantage of the perfect opportunity with the girl of his dreams.
As Fogell, newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse takes the stereotypical nerd role and turns it up several notches. When his character obtains a fake I.D., Mintz-Plasse's uber nerd is utterly convincing as he attempts to explain why choosing the one-word moniker "McLovin" actually makes sense. If the Academy were to give an award for the perfect facial expression, Mintz-Plasse would undoubtedly be nominated for the complete and utter expression of joy on his face as he finally gets with the girl of his dreams, looks up and says "It's in." It's a priceless, funny and sweet comic moment.
With fresh fake I.D. in hand, McLovin is charged with obtaining the liquor that will score the babes and, of course, nothing goes as planned. McLovin ends up accompanying two police officers (Seth Rogen and SNL's Bill Hader) on an increasingly ludicrous series of misadventures. While both Rogan and Hader are a joy to behold, the misadventures become so over-the-top and extended that they become a tad distracting from the film's otherwise grounded "real life" experiental comedy.
The film's female roles are considerably underdeveloped, a shame considering that all three actresses appear game for some comic misadventures of their own. Likewise, the lack of character development makes it more difficult to accept their blossoming attractions to three young men who would be, at the best, nerds in nearly any high school across America. Despite the script's inherent limitations, Martha MacIsaac, Emma Stone and Aviva all perform nicely and show promise for future roles.
Rather surprisingly for a film so obsessed with sex, "Superbad" is actually devoid of any nudity. While body fluids abound and there are a couple scenes of sexual situations, it is a credit to Mottola's direction that the emphasis remains on characters and comedy not tittilation and easy laughs.
The production design for "Superbad," set in present day, has a decidedly 70's feel to it, complete with a Bootsy Collins musical accompaniment. Filmed on a rather modest, at least for a proven box-office winner like Apatow, $20 million budget, "Superbad" is practically guaranteed to be a modest box-office winner for Sony Pictures.
While the cast has proclaimed in interviews that the "F" word is used more times in "Superbad" than any other film, I find myself believing that to be more a proclamation of teenage nerd bravado than actual fact. While "Superbad" is undoubtedly on the raunchier end of the teen sex comedy spectrum, the raunchiness itself felt authentic to the characters and never felt manufactured or over-bearing. It is an interesting choice, however, to not hold back on the "R" rating when the film is so clearly targeting the teenage male audience.
Among the vast sea of teen sex comedies you will recall while watching "Superbad," perhaps the film it most closely resembles is the Cameron Crowe penned "Fast Times at Ridgemont High". Like that classic film that made Sean Penn a star, "Superbad" gives us everyday characters making everyday decisions that are frequently funny, occasionally absurd, inherently honest and surprisingly sweet.
For all its obsession with simply getting laid, "Superbad" is an intelligent and occasionally insightful look at the sometimes scary place we call the adolescent male mind.
Suddenly, I'm much more comfortable with the idea of being 40 now.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic