the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Friday, August 03, 2007

Superbad













Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) are best friends with a uniquely co-dependent relationship. But all that is about to end. In just three weeks, they graduate from high school and brainy Evan is heading off to Dartmouth while slacker Seth stays behind at a state school. Seth is foul-mouthed, selfish, volatile and sex-obsessed, while Evan is sweet, introverted, and sincerely cares about treating girls with respect. They are not nerds exactly—that role falls to third-wheel Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) with whom even Seth is reluctant to be seen—just unpopular, socially inept outsiders whom no one but the bullies ever even recognizes exist. On the outside looking in, the trio longs to be part of the luminous world of the popular kids, and with the end of their high-school careers looming, Seth decides they need to do something radical.

When Seth happens to mention to sexy crush Jules (Emma Stone) that he has access to the high school Holy Grail—a fake ID—Jules invites them all to a party later than night, provided Seth can supply the alcohol. This is exactly the sort of break Seth has been looking for and he agrees instantly, thoughts of getting with a drunk Jules running through his head. Evan is excited about the prospect simply because he knows that Jules’ friend Becca (Martha MacIssac) will be there, but he isn’t so sure about Seth’s rationale: “You know when girls say, ‘Man, I was soooo gone last night…I shouldn’t have slept with that guy.’ Don’t you understand—we could be that mistake!”

Fogell is the one who has secured the fake ID, listing him as “McLovin,” a 25-year-old Hawaiian organ donor. When the liquor store at which he tries to buy the booze is robbed, Fogell finds himself spending the evening with two hilariously bumbling cops (co-writer Seth Rogen and Bill Hader), while Seth and Evan embark on a classic, increasingly treacherous, misdirected odyssey to procure illicit alcohol and make it to the party with their friendship intact.

Superbad follows in the tradition of such films as Animal House, Porky’s, Revenge of the Nerds, Dazed and Confused and Can’t Hardly Wait. Those who bemoan the ascendancy of bawdy sex comedies merely haven’t been paying attention to film history. These sorts of over-the-top, crass comedies have always been around—they’re just much more unleashed and “in your face” these days. Superbad takes one of the most notorious and played-out stories—the teenage sex comedy—and infuses it with new life through an immaculate convergence of exceptionally brilliant, understated actors, a hilarious script and a gifted director.

To call Superbad crude is a whale of an understatement. It is quite possibly one of the most foul-mouthed, vulgar films you are ever likely to see. Superbad is pornography without the nudity, which, depending on how you look at it, either ruins the film or redeems it. The characters spend most of the two hours talking about sex in graphic, raunchy detail. If I told you about the lines and moments that drew the loudest laughs, you’d have to give this review an R-rating.

The thing that saves Superbad from being a profane waste of time is its urbane intelligence and above all, bracing honesty. On the one hand, the frank subject matter and the way in which the guys discuss it mirrors exactly the crass give-and-take of a locker room or any such space absent of women. (Sorry ladies, shocking, I know, but true.) Superbad has the cojones to put on screen the way guys actually behave and talk when we think no one is watching. On the other hand, the script is sharp and observant, infused with contemplative observations of a time in life dominated by profound confusion, seemingly uncontrollably urges and often deep pain. The two writers, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, obviously understand intuitively the awkwardness of adolescence, private embarrassment, and the pubescent love/hate relationship with the human body.

Over-the-top raunch-fest though it may be, Superbad’s legitimate hilarity is not in dispute. Mixing screwball humor, outrageous hilarity, fantastic, hallucinogenic absurdity, and a funky soundtrack, Superbad is the laugh out loud hit of the summer. For comparison, watch a film like I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry to see how the one is light years ahead of the other in terms of sophistication and intelligence.

Years down the road, chances are Judd Apatow (the director of Knocked Up; here the producer), Seth Rogan, and Jonah Hill will look back on the summer of 2007 with wonder and awe. Together, the three were directly involved with (and often conspired together on) some of the summer’s biggest hits—Knocked Up, Shrek the Third, Evan Almighty, Rocket Science (to be released next week, but already getting great buzz), and now Superbad. If Superbad is about one unforgettable night in the lives of two young men, this summer is likely to be indelibly etched in the minds of some of the most hilarious, creative (and incontestably naughty) men to hit Hollywood in a very long time.

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