Superbad (United States, 2007)
What if Quentin Tarantino collaborated with John Hughes on a teen comedy? Superbad is a decent approximation of what the result might be. As with Borat, there are no sacred cows here. The movie, produced by Judd Apatow, written by Seth Rogan & Evan Goldberg, and directed by Greg Mottola, pushes the genre's envelope a little farther than anything before it has done. It recalls American Pie but with less nudity (in fact, there's none to speak of) and dialogue that is more clever and more profane. The movie is frequently amusing and occasionally uproarious.
The plot is straightforward as befits a production that's more about jokes, dialogue, and character interaction than narrative progression. The protagonists are three stereotypical male high school seniors whose thoughts turn to sex once every 3.5 seconds. There's Evan (Michael Cera), who's close to an "average guy" - shy around girls but open with his friends. Seth (Jonah Hill) is overweight and pugnacious, and aware that his appearance doesn't make him a babe-magnet. Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is the uber-nerd whose social inadequacies and lack of emotional maturity allow him to think that the single moniker of "McLuvin" is a good name on a fake I.D. Fate gives the boys an opportunity to impress some girls by getting alcohol for a party. Seth has his eyes on Jules (Emma Stone), the organizer of the party. Evan is after Becca (Martha MacIsaac), a girl in his math class. And Fogell has chosen Nicola (Aviva), whose provocative manner of dress leaves him tongue-tied. Their misadventures take them to strange places and cause them to run afoul of Officers Slater (Bill Hader) and Michaels (Seth Rogan), the most inept cops this side of Hot Fuzz.
Teen comedies have always found it more interesting to focus on social outsiders than members of the in-crowd, and Superbad is not an exception. While Evan, Seth, and Fogell are cut from the whole cloth of types, they achieve a level of individuality that is, while not unprecedented, at least unusual. The filmmakers avoid the seductive pull of reducing their protagonists to caricatures - a move that has killed many a similar film. Part of this is due to the deceptive smartness of the screenplay, but a lion's share of the credit must go to the actors. Michael Cera and Jonah Hill exhibit an infectious likeability while newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse uses his exuberant obnoxiousness to steal scenes. This is also a largely parent-free zone. Other than Stacy Edwards as Evan's mother, who is on camera exclusively for her cleavage, mature adults are in short supply.
The prime requisite of any comedy - that it generate laughs - is amply met. Superbad is chock full of R-rated glee. Although there are instances of physical humor (some of which pays homage, either intentionally or unintentionally, to The Three Stooges) and sex-related jokes (including penis drawings), most of the comedy is in the dialogue. There are some hilarious one-liners, including one remark about health class that no one leaving the theater will forget. Through all of the mayhem, however, director Mottola never loses sight of his characters, and that's a key point to remember. While we laugh both with and at the protagonists, we also care about them.
The trailers for Superbad are uniformly awful and should therefore be avoided. Having seen the movie, it's easy to understand why the advertisements are lackluster. The film needs context for the jokes to be funny. Lobbed naked at audiences, they often don't work. And, thankfully, the previews don't commit the cardinal sin of giving away the best punch-lines. Certainly, Superbad is lewd, crude, and rude, but that's not going to frighten away a significant portion of the target audience. Then again, one could argue that this movie is made not just for those who are teenagers but also for those who remember what it's like to be one.
If the movie has a failing, it's a tendency to be long-winded. This is the same issue that has plagued Judd Apatow's excellent directorial efforts, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. The denouement feels unnecessarily protracted and the number of scenes with the cops (some of the least comically successful material in the movie) could have been trimmed. Superbad is a very good little 95 minute movie that runs a little over 110 minutes.
It takes a brave filmmaker to release a movie called Superbad. Fortunately for Mottola and friends, it's impossible to use the title to describe the quality. And, while Superbad may not be "supergood," it's engaging enough to be worth paying full admission prices.
Superbad (United States, 2007)
Cast: Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bill Hader, Seth Rogen, Emma Stone, Martha MacIsaac, Aviva
Screenplay: Seth Rogan & Evan Goldberg
Cinematography: Russ T. Alsobrook
Music: Lyle Workman
U.S. Distributor: Columbia Pictures