Superbad

"They say if you go to enough movies, sooner or later you will see your own story…". 
 
That’s Roger Ebert writing about the criminally underrated 1995 film, Angus (you can read my review here).  I felt the same way while watching Superbad.
 
This is the funniest teen comedy since American Pie 2.  There are moments here that are so uproarious and so outrageous, that at certain points, you have to press pause in order to catch your breath and let the pain in your face subside.  It’s a Sore Jaw Comedy of the highest calibre.
 
With two weeks left before they graduate high school, Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill), inseparable pals since grade school, are deeply concerned about their futures.  They won’t be attending the same college next year.  More importantly, both have deep insecurities about their pathetically empty social lives.  (That sounds familiar.)  From the moment we meet them, they partake in explicitly obsessive (and consistently hilarious) Seinfeldian conversations about sex.  Evan’s the sensitive one seeking that elusive emotional connection with women (I can relate) while Seth is the desperate horndog dying for sexual contact of any kind.  (He mostly enjoyed hand jobs from one girl ages ago and is already worried about peaking too early.)  How desperate is he?  After gettting invited to a party by a very cute classmate in Home Economics, he excitedly interrupts his pal’s soccer game to tell him that if they can make it with drunk girls there, they can be the "mistakes" drunk girls later regret when they’ve sobered up.  That’ll help give them some experience so they can be better prepared later on for the plethora of college girls who expect their lovers to have more skill.
 
Evan is so awkward around Becca (played by the charming Martha MacIssac), the girl of his dreams, that he really has no clue how deeply attracted she is to him.  The way she looks longingly at him in an early scene is sweet and convincing.  She practically asks him out but he’s too busy continuing his hilarious story about how he’s a man about town with his buddies (the reason she hasn’t seen him at any house parties) to notice.  In a lesser movie, she would already be moving on to someone else after their conversation, and while there are moments later on where we question her sincerity (is she setting him up to be humiliated?), we eventually realize her true feelings.
 
When Seth complains about his absent Home Ec partner, which has to be seen to be believed, he’s paired with Jules (a remarkably understanding Emma Stone) and they immediately bond over cooking.  (She’s the one who invites him to the party she’s throwing while her parents are away.)  Their banter is so natural we sense an immediate chemistry.  I love how at some point during their conversations throughout the movie, Seth will say or do something completely inappropriate because of his chronic impatience with not getting laid.  And yet, Jules is not completely turned off by him, despite his gracelessly bad timing.  She’s wise enough to see right through the phony macho facade he haplessly tries to project to impress her, not to mention the ribald quips he needlessly throws out there.  He makes her laugh and she rightly senses that he’s a good guy who feels comfortable with her.  She cuts him a great deal of slack which makes her all the more endearing.  Deep down, she knows who he really is and that’s who she’s attracted to.
 
And then, there’s Fogell (a star-making debut by my long lost twin, Christopher Mintz-Plasse).  Seth resents him (for reasons that become much clearer later on), frequently calling him "Fagell", but when Jules gives him a hundred dollars to buy booze for the party, he recruits Dennis, I mean, Fogell for the job.  It helps that the bespectacled would-be hipster is in the process of acquiring a fake ID.  But when he shows it to Seth, he’s incensed.  (McLovin?  Is this guy crazy?)  Furthermore, his place of birth is Hawaii and he has to pass for 25.  They sense disaster.
 
Jonah Hill and Michael Cera are perfectly cast in their respective roles.  Cera, in particular, is so natural a performer he never gives away the fact that he’s acting.  In every scene of Superbad, he masterfully underplays his lines to the point where you wonder if he’s really playing himself.  Whether he’s acting with Hill or his beautiful love interest, Martha MacIssac, all his awkward pauses and teenage hesitancies, on top of his naturally quick speaking style, feel authentic.  We like this guy, we care about him and all of us knows someone like him in our social circle.  It’s hard not to see parts of your own personality on display here, particularly the way he views women.
 
Hill delivers the finest performance of his young career.  He has never been funnier as the coarse, larger than life but surprisingly heartfelt Seth.  He is completely incapable of telling a lie.  Everybody sees right through him when he tries.  His honest views about sex and his charming friendship with Evan are the heart and soul of the movie.  He is compulsive, more than a little misguided, bad tempered, but not stupid.  Through his own embarrassing errors, he becomes a better person.
 
An unexpected plot twist introduces two more important characters to the story.  Co-screenwriter Seth Rogan and Bill Hader play a couple of lackadaisical police officers (Michaels and Slater, respectively) who are far more interested in bonding with McLovin than solving any crime on their beat.  Both are perpetual screw-ups who make the graduates of the Police Academy franchise look like Serpico in comparison.  They frequently behave like Seth’s older, dopier brothers and yet, for the most part, their scenes with McLovin are very funny and persuasive.  They serve as an ample warning to our young heroes that living in a permanent state of adolescence, especially when faced with important responsibilities like law enforcement, leads to one bad decision after another.  They also remind us of the importance of unexpected friendships.  Even though their motives are not always pure or commendable, like McLovin, Seth and Evan, male bonding plays a key role in their survival and well-being.  You root for their own self-improvement, like the teenage girls in the story.
 
As funny and observant as Superbad is about the teenage male psyche, it’s not quite perfect.  What’s the deal with that seemingly pedophillic guy who hits Seth with his car?  He’s not funny.  What about that cell phone conversation where Evan spends more time cursing the poor quality of his reception than talking to a perplexed Becca?  Yes, I know.  It’s another demonstration of how unaware he is of how he comes across to a potential mate, but it doesn’t work.  (When he finally finds a functioning phone, the events of the previously disastrous call are wisely forgotten.)  And ultimately, the film is too long.  Trimming 10, 15, maybe even 20 minutes from the nearly two-hour running time would’ve made this very good movie a great one.  (Some of the McLovin/Slater/Michaels stuff stretches credibility and isn’t always a laugh riot.  It would’ve been nicer to spend more time with Becca and Jules, instead.)
 
The teenage sex comedy is a well plowed genre but somehow, someway, Superbad milks some fresh laughs and insights out of familiar terrain.  It eerily understands the frustrations and anxieties of the hormonal set, especially in the final act where awkwardness, not pornographic perfection, permeates the atmosphere of a number of intimate scenes.  Despite some out there plot twists, this world and these characters feel real to us.  We know them, and they are who we are, or were, at one pivotal point in our young lives.
 
I’ll say it loud and I’ll say it proud.  I am McLovin.
 
(Special thanks to Rob Kerr.)
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, March 2, 2008
3:38 p.m.
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Published in: on March 2, 2008 at 3:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

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