Superbad – 2007

Director Greg Mottola
Screenplay Seth Rogan, Evan Goldberg
Starring Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Seth Rogen, Bill Hader, Emma Stone, Martha MacIsaac

In the spate of films and television shows coming out of the early Judd Apatow era of comedy, Superbad arrived, exploded like a supernova, then just kind of moved to the side. Apatow founded and helped develop a new era of comedy where gross things are often discussed alongside more mature concepts. Superbad is in the top 5 comedies from the 2000-2010 era, though it’s rarely discussed. Comedy has stayed gross since then, but is considerably less mature.

For those who have not seen it, they should. One should be able to navigate through the kinds of conversations that high school boys discuss. They are clever and ignorant. The bigger the talk, the less they’ve done. The more detail, the bigger the mystery. There is cursing. A ton of it. Women are objectified and put on an impossible pedistal.

Seth and Evan (Hill and Cera) are on the verge of graduation. They are looking to get closer to their respective crushes, Jules and Becca (Stone and MacIsaac). Their friend, Fogell (Mintz-Plasse) arranges to get a fake I.D. at the same time Jules invites Seth to a party at her house. A plan is hatched. Of course it all goes sideways.

The tangents of Superbad are the entirety of the story. The problems are as entertaining as the main plot. The best thing about the story is there are no wasted characters. In a normal, competent comedy, a character like Fogell would be the butt of jokes only there to make the nice characters look funnier and the mean characters look meaner.

In Superbad, he’s McLovin, in all of his ragged glory. He’s used as the butt of a certain number of jokes, but he’s just as often allowed to succeed. The journey he takes with two of the worst officers ever (Hader and Rogen) is enough for one movie. It’s a labyrinth that could be a nightmare. The things they go through are completely unrealistic. These events are also funny as hell. If one hangs with it through the journey, it feels like something everyone should do, at least once.

Evan (Cera) is the same character we’ve seen in most of the other things he’s been in, outside of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Fortunately that character is sweet, wise and filled with a yearning few others can match. When Seth freaks out and decides he needs to go to Good Shopper to steal a bunch of liquor, Fogell begins to protest.

“He won’t do it. Don’t worry,” is all Evan needs to say.

He’s been down the road before and doesn’t burn unnecessary calories worrying.

Seth spends a considerable amount of time fantasizing and getting angry. There are reasons for this beyond the emergency at hand. He’s angry that he and Evan are going to different schools. He’s even angrier that he’s being left behind while Fogell becomes Evan’s roommate at Dartmouth.

The script really comes to life through the dialogue of all three of the protagonists. The language is hilarious and more intelligent than most comedies. The places these kids go seems ludicrous, but believable. Most plans involving ridiculous possibilities don’t work. The fun is whether or not one can make the sideways ventures more entertaining than the plot from which they derive. For Superbad, it’s the journey, not the destination. The journey wins throughout.

The objects of affection are just as awkward, once we get to see them outside of Seth and Evan’s continual dialogue discussing their merit or failings with regard to sexuality. MacIsaac kind of disappeared shortly after the film, but she does a great job of showing someone who is as ignorant as Cera’s Evan. She’s the kind of character who would not have more than one dimension normally, but here, we find she’s as sweet as the one who is pursuing her, and luckily so. That amount of sweetness in a cute young girl isn’t always so lucky to find a match.

Stone is brimming with talent in her feature film debut. She’s got pop in every scene, and looks entirely more mature than her counterparts. More important, she looks kind. It’s understandable one could be smitten by her and still not know her at all. By the time we’ve reached critical mass with Seth at the party, she’s cool enough to spare his feelings. She can see beyond the fantasy in his head to the decent guy we’ve seen throughout. She sees him crying. It doesn’t phase her.

In all honesty, this film will not be for everyone. The price of hearing vulgarity and references to alcohol and drugs is worth enduring when one realizes that there is more for the characters to learn by the time they get where they’re going.

This doesn’t mean the film spends an inordinate amount of time moralizing. There is no obvious or clunky lessons the filmmaker is trying to teach us to excuse the fact that they’re making risky choices. The Goldberg, Rogen and Mottola are smarter than that. Nothing kills the vibe of fun faster than the film taking a detour into teaching us to accept some form of morality heretofore (or afterword) unmentioned.

Here we get to see an awful singing of These Eyes as someone else is called a mangina while across town one of the kids is taking target practice with the police. Most of these would be the climax of a worse film. Here, it’s all part of the same five minutes of the second act.

There are so few comedies that are rewatchable. Ethical or not, this is a funny film about people we all knew in high school. None of them possess any sort of genius. Most of them are decent. Each of them were have a series of delightful failures with little victories along the way.

This film is a big victory.

(***** out of *****)

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