Movie Review: Superbad
By Shane Jenkins
August 21, 2007
If Judd Apatow were a snack food, he would be Beer Nuts. Like that bar favorite, the comedy style now synonymous with Apatow's name is a delicate balance of salty yet sweet. And Superbad, the latest movie from 2007's comedy Svengali, is the Beer Nuttiest of them all. With language so salty, it makes 40 Year-Old Virgin look like Newsies, and a sweeter heart than Knocked Up, Superbad is not just the funniest movie of the year - it's also one of the flat-out best.
Man, though, these kids can cuss. Jonah Hill went from wanting us to ask about his wiener in Accepted, to not shutting up about it here. He plays Seth, a chubby motor-mouthed fountain of profanity, hurling expletives in all directions, as if they were a shield protecting his many insecurities. His best bud is Evan (Michael Cera from Arrested Development), the sweater-wearing level-headed half of the duo. Evan is like an 18-year-old Bob Newhart, constantly marveling at the craziness swirling around him, trying to keep things on course with clear thinking and a sturdy conscience.
Several critics have compared this pair's chemistry and dynamics to some of the classic comedic duos, like Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello. I would say they're more analogous to Lethal Weapon's Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. Hill is like Gibson's Riggs - a little crazy and unpredictable, the "loose cannon." Cera then, is the Murtaugh character - a straight-shooter who usually plays by the rules, but can be persuaded to bend them if the situation calls for it. Superbad even has its own version of Leo Getz, the annoying jabberjaw played by Joe Pesci in Lethal Weapon 2. His name is Fogell, aka McLovin.
Ah, McLovin - seller of tickets, creator of catchphrases. As played by casting call find Christopher Mintz-Plasse, McLovin, an uber-nerd so dorky that he comes all the way back around to cool, manages to act as comic relief in a film that doesn't require any. Superbad would already have a dizzying amount of laughs without him, but with McLovin, this one goes to 11. He has the manic, nerdy energy that DJ Qualls brought to Road Trip, but even more so. He's like the character in a sitcom that the audience goes crazy for every time they enter a scene. Mintz-Plasse has a lifetime of "Hey! McLovin!" to look forward to/dread, and I don't think you can overestimate how much of the film's popularity he is personally responsible for.
Which is not to say that our main two characters aren't terrific. Most of the sweetness of Superbad comes from how these two best friends interact, and how they attempt to forget that this is summer's last hurrah, before they are forced to go their separate ways to new colleges. Being teenage boys, they can't seem to communicate their affection for each other, lest they come off "gay." Instead, their anxieties mostly take the form of arguing and cursing. Much of the action centers around their attempts to procure alcohol for some girls at a party, possibly get laid, and enjoy one another's company while there's still time.
Like Dazed and Confused, Superbad takes place over the course of one day and night, give or take a little. And, while Superbad is situated in the present, it seems to have absorbed a little of that movie's grooviness, from the '70s-riffic opening to some of the retro clothes the characters wear. Dazed is one of my all-time favorites, mostly because the dialogue and situations are so authentic. That film's director, Richard Linklater, set up workshops for his huge cast, and much of the naturalistic work from the actors came out of improvisation. Apatow, who produced Superbad, also reportedly works this way on his many projects, and the director, Greg Mottola from The Daytrippers, gets some great, nuanced performances out of his young cast. The difference between this new strain of cringe comedy and its '80s counterparts like Porky's and Class, for example, is that Superbad and its ilk don't feel like there's a 40-year-old trying to write for a 17-year-old. These performers, only a little older than they are playing, bring something of themselves to the roles, and that makes all the difference.
Part of the credit, of course, must go to Superbad's writers, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen. They wrote the film when they were teenagers themselves, and, while it has gone through some revisions over the years, there's still something unshakably authentic about the story. The two main characters are named after themselves, and while they say it's not explicitly autobiographical, they did draw from their real lives for the premise. Rogen, deemed too old to play his fictional counterpart, instead has a role as a rookie cop. He and his partner, played by SNL's Bill Hader, are not any more mature or responsible than the high school kids. They abuse their power to blow through intersections and get free drinks, use their guns irresponsibly, and above all, desperately want to appear "cool." I imagine some police groups won't be too happy about how they are portrayed here, but Superbad offers more of a blistering attack on the "eternal child" syndrome than making any kind of statement about cops at large.
It's a little ironic that the same weekend Superbad opened to great success, Disney Channel broadcast High School Musical 2, (perhaps Superbad's polar opposite) also to overwhelming response. The HSM movies are the phoniest, most superficial representations of high school life since, I don't know, maybe Saved by the Bell. This must be a comfort to millions of parents who like to imagine their children drinking milk, obsessing about prom, and singing pop ditties even Pat Boone would approve of. They would probably do well to steer clear of Superbad if they want to maintain that illusion.
But maybe the most surprising thing about Superbad's porn-watching, sex-craving, alcohol-swilling teens is they seem to be alright. Unlike HSM's lunchbox-ready mannequins, the Superbad kids actually acknowledge that they live in modern times, and just want to have a little fun before they are weighed down by more adult responsibilities. If today's parents can't relate to that, then they really have forgotten what it's like to be young. They can have their tan-blasted, mascara-wearing Zac Efron. I'll take the shlubby foul-mouthed losers any day of the week. Choose a side. The war is on.