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Since the early ’80s, the high school male coming-of-age comedy has become almost as much a rite of passage as the actual event itself. Each new generation has at least one variation on the theme of sexual obsession and discovery. From Porky’s to Fast Times at Ridgemont High to American Pie, the raunch bar has been raised until you’d think it couldn’t go any higher. It can, and it does, in Superbad.
Boy friends: Hill and Cera
The common denominator for all these films is scoring. And I don’t mean getting the basketball through the hoop, people. (Unless, of course, you’d prefer to embrace my transparent metaphor.) Superbad enters into a genre so well worn, you can’t imagine it has anything fresh to offer. And yet, this alarmingly profane comedy about two high school friends who must start that painful, but necessary, transition into adulthood, is infused with such poignancy, honesty and sweet, disarming charm that it puts everything that came before it to shame. It bests them all, even Fast Times. And it does so in such a magnificent way, that it becomes the definitive example of a genre that takes no prisoners as it aims its jokes toward the lowest common denominator.
It should come as no surprise that several of the folks responsible for Superbad hail from the camp of Judd Apatow, a director who, with The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, has found a way to merge inappropriate, sophomoric, ribald humor with honest to goodness heart. Superbad was written by Knocked Up star Seth Rogen and friend Evan Goldberg. The pair started writing it when they were 13-year-old best friends, and the final result, honed over the years, is a blend of incidents that have an autobiographical feel with those that are pure, unadulterated wish fulfillment. If Superbad gleefully traipses off into wild teenage fantasy territory every so often, it does so with an authenticity that, at the very least, every single male in the audience should, on some level, relate to. If Beaches was the ultimate chick flick, Superbad is one for all dudes, young and old.
At its core, Superbad is a love story between two boys: Seth (Jonah Hill), loud, boorish, obsessed with girls he’ll never obtain, and the fundamentally decent but equally hormonally supercharged Evan (Arrested Development‘s wonderful Michael Cera). Failing to blip on any high school social register whatsoever, the boys have forged an unbreakable bond that is as pure and powerful as any high school romance. They’re not gay — there’s no hidden sexual attraction fueling their relationship. But they are emotionally attached at the hip. They’re soulmates. And co-dependent ones, through and through.
It’s the tearing apart of their superbond that ripples beneath the surface of Superbad, as the boys face separation (Evan got into Dartmouth, while the scholastically-challenged Seth did not), providing a tension that forges a narrative trail that — very, very sneakily — leads the film to its pinnacle moment: a revelatory conversation between the friends in Evan’s basement. It’s followed by an even more revelatory moment at the local mall, as the realities of pairing up with the opposite sex are confronted head on. Out of the fantasy frying pan and into the fire, so to speak.
Smoothly directed by Greg Mottola (The Daytrippers), Superbad isn’t some big, ultra-meaningful experience — that’s just the frosting. There’s plenty to laugh at — often to the point of abdominal pain. Seth and Evan are virtually Shakespearean in their odes to anatomical regions, both of the male and female variety, and what should, could, would and will be done with said body parts.Pudgy and pushy Seth is the instigator of most of the coarse, crass talk, but it’s merely the overweight boy’s self-defense mechanism. Seth’s as obnoxious as they come, and as deftly portrayed by Hill, just may be the most loveable cinema slob since John Belushi’s Bluto Blutarski.
Cera’s Evan is more refined, the kind of guy who, when it’s learned that the object of his affection wants to do unspeakable things to him, tries to put a stop to it because he’s not as drunk as she is. When the girl of his dreams mounts him and mutters, ”I’m all wet,” he stutters, ”Yeah, they said in health class that would happen.” Evan’s a gentleman and a kind soul, ripe for ”Yes, dear” domination down the line if he falls into the wrong relationship. Cera’s knack for awkward half-sentences and a rushed, befuddled stutter provide the movie its funnier moments, including a scene in which he finds himself in a room full of coked-out guys who think he’s a famous singer. Thanks to Cera, what happens next is pure comedic bliss.
Cera and Hill share terrific natural chemistry, playing off one another with absolute perfection. They’re a modern day Laurel and Hardy. But there’s a wild card in the mix, brilliant newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who plays Fogell, an uber-geek who is the wobbly third wheel in the relationship. Fogell obtains a fake I.D. with the name ”McLovin” emblazoned on it and attempts to procure booze for the trio to bring to a graduation party. But Fogell gets separated from the pack and winds up in the company of two police officers (Bill Hader and Seth Rogen) who at first seem like bumbling idiots, but who in fact are just pining for the carefree days of their youth. They’re cops who just wanna have fun. And Fogell, as a result of his experience, comes into his own. The single most satisfying moment in the film is watching this kid become (almost) a man.
Superbad recalls those days when we were inseparable from our best friends, when the prospect of a first sexual experience was both mortifying and so desperately, desperately yearned for, when the blissful joys (and vomit-drenched lows) of illicit drinking and small, reckless instances were the moments that defined our lives, before adulthood set in and every day responsibilities and drudgeries claimed our simplest joys.