Superbad (2007) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive crude and sexual content, strong language, drinking, some drug use and a fantasy/comic violent image - all involving teens.
Running time: 114 min.
Cast: Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Seth Rogen, Bill Hader, Martha Maclsaac, Emma Stone, Aviva Farber, Joe Lo Truglio, Kevin Corrigan, David Krumholtz (cameo)
Director: Greg Mottolla
Screenplay: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Review published September 11, 2007
Those who can't get enough of the pop-culture literate comedies by Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up) that celebrate the geek culture in wickedly funny ways would do well to check out Superbad. Although he doesn't write or direct the film, he does produce it, and in many ways, it is embodies pretty much everything you'd expect in one of his comedies, both the good and not-so-good, depending on your perspective on raunchy gags and characters set up to jump incessantly through hoops once their basic make-up is established.
It's becoming a formula, but it works, primarily because these films deliver in laughs. What's refreshing about Superbad, as well as the aforementioned Apatow-directed films, is that the makers of them know their audience. Whereas other filmmakers are told to go for broad and generic jokes that many people will understand, these films churn out plenty of name-dropping and allusions to popular culture, both old and new, that will hit hard for those who have at least a passing knowledge of TV, movies, music and current events. You can still laugh even if you don't completely know what the characters are referring to, but it certainly helps.
The plot is fairly minimal, but the best parts barely deal with it. Essentially, the less-bright, more talkative of three geeky high school friends, Seth (Hill, 10 Items or Less), gets an invite by Jules (Stone, "Drive"), a hot babe in his class to come to her party, with the understanding that he is supposed to provide the alcohol. She gives him $100 to make the detailed purchase, but being under 21, he is not quite sure where to turn. Luckily, geekier friend Fogell (Mintz-Plasse) just so happens to be getting his fake ID that day, so Seth recruits him, along with mutual friend Evan (Cera, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), who has his heart set on impressing Becca (Maclsaac, I Do They Don't), a girl he has had his eye on for some time, to help him score the much-wanted booze. The ID is pretty iffy, which makes Seth very nervous indeed, and when the cops start sniffing around, they aren't sure what to do. One thing's for sure, none of the boys are going down like the punks everyone else thinks them to be.
Superbad is directed by Greg Mottolla (The Daytrippers), who has spent most of his career directing TV comedies. He has a good sense of visual flair and timing that suggests he should direct more feature films in the future. However, what really elevates Superbad from silly raunch-fest into one of the year's freshest and funniest is in the writing department. Seth Rogen, who starred earlier in the year in Apatow's Knocked Up, co-writes with good friend Evan Goldberg, and drawing from their own personal experiences (though heavily embellished), they are able to bolster their wild comedy with certain truths that many of us have felt during our high school years. Alienation, awkwardness with the opposite sex, obsession with changing body parts, and wanting to fit in with the in crowd -- it's all a part of what everyone goes through.
I should also mention the superb casting of the film, with Hill, Cera and Mintz-Plasse making for a terrific trio of geeky friends. Although they enjoy each other's company, it is an honest portrayal to see that Evan's two friends are actually competing with each other underneath. It happens all of the time in real life, but these sorts of jealous hidden rivalries among friends are rarely depicted in films, and almost never so well. In perhaps the biggest compliment I can give it, I would say that if the film were nothing but these three characters walking around town bantering with one another (which it practically is at times), I'd definitely find it worth watching.
Superbad, for all of the praise I can bestow it in terms of laughs, isn't perfect. Like Apatow's works, it does run a bit long, and there are some extended lulls that could have been excised. The first half hour is sheer perfection, all the way up until Fogell attempts to buy some bags full of booze. Everything after that is hit and miss material, with chase sequences we've seen once too often, wild parties that are little more than drunks fist fighting, and some potential male deflowering scenes that are too crude to take with the honesty of the rest of the material.
The potential for romance that brews between Seth and Jules just doesn't ever come off as convincing. It probably doesn't help that the female characters are as idealized and rather underwritten -- that "awesome babes" they have to settle mightily for "losers" is a recurring theme in Apatow comedies, and it is getting a little old to believe that every hot babe is attainable by the nerdiest of nerds. Perhaps the biggest peeve I had is that the boys are practically lifelong friends, and yet they tell each other anecdotes as if they barely know one another (Why Becca irks Seth, his notorious penis obsession, etc.).
Despite these quibbles, it will be hard to find a funnier film this year than Superbad, and it is very much recommended to all audiences that enjoy raunchy good times with wacky characters and a little bit of sincerity underneath. It's that honest quality that keeps the film from being just another American Pie knock-off, a film to which one might draw comparisons if not for the fact that it's light years ahead in humor and personality.
©2007 Vince Leo