Superbad

August 24th, 2007 by Ghost

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This review contains mild spoilers.

If comedy is a language then it is a dead one. Having long since been removed from modern society, those that truly understand it and are able to articulate and manipulate its words and phrases properly are few. Any idiot on the street can mutter a few broken sentences and stumble into making us laugh, but not everyone can speak the language so fluently that we can identify with who or what we’re laughing at. Judd Apatow is bilingual, he knows the language of comedy and he’s proven time and again that he can translate it to his directors nearly flawlessly, losing precious few of the nuances of the original tongue in the process.

Since 2004 Apatow has unleashed a rapid fire menagerie of comedy beasts onto the unsuspecting public; rabid monsters that tear their way quickly to the number 1 spot at the box office and often hold that ground against larger predators. Unsurprisingly, he shows little sign of slowing; he’s attached to six projects through 2008 alone. If even one of these shows the heart that many of his films do, then we’re all the better for it. Not content with just making surface waves, Apatow consistently aims to strike deeper, to connect us to the characters on at least some base level; something that many in comedy seem to have forgotten. Laughing at a character that you can identify with is a far richer experience than staying disconnected and smiling from a distance.

The teen sex-romp-one-last-wild-night-to party/have sex/steal a mule genre is a path that many have walked, each person leaving behind something for the next hiker on the trail to pick up. Superbad (directed by Greg Mottola), having come along some 900 years after the creation of the premise, has its arms full by the time it straggles back into camp. Taking hints and cues from any number of films from Losin’ It to American Pie (don’t turn your nose up just yet) Superbad plants itself firmly in the very adult realm of juvenile humor.

Obscenities pour on tap from the mouths of best friends Seth (Jonah Hill), Evan (Michael Cera) and the tolerated Fogell (newcomer Christoper Mintz-Plasse) as they aim to make a graduation party the best night of their lives. Seth is fed up, two years have passed since his last 3/4ths of a sexual encounter and he’s sick of sitting on the sidelines. By his calculations he should have been dating girls steady throughout high school and by the time he hits Dartmouth College with Evan (their childhood dream), they should both be wizards in the bedroom. Evan, meanwhile, has been pining for Becca (Martha MacIsaac), a girl who clearly likes him, but he’s too timid to make a move.

A stroke of luck in home economics has Seth paired with girl of his dreams Jules (Emma Stone) as both of their partners are absent for the class. As it turns out, Jules is not as unapproachable as she seems and she invites Seth and Evan to a party she’s throwing that night. With help from Fogell AKA McLovin’s new fake ID, Seth promises Jules that he can supply alcohol to the party, thus becoming the savior of the night. Feeling at least a little connection with Jules, Seth vows to make her his “summer girlfriend” at the party and get in at least two months of steady sex before hitting college. He pressures the apprehensive Evan to do the same with Becca.

And so it goes, the debauched night is on and the countdown to manhood has begun. The only major hurdle is actually getting the drinks and Fogell, in a fit of strategic odds beating brilliance, has made himself 25 on the ID because, honestly, “everyone makes themselves 21.” Unfortunately, the liquor store is robbed while he’s at the counter and McLovin’ is taken away by inept cops Slater (Bill Hader) and Michaels (Apatow cast regular Seth Rogen). With the loss of their source as well as Seth’s car from an earlier incident, the two friends have the prerequisite misadventures before arriving at their ultimate destination and eventually learn a little something about themselves in the process.

Superbad takes these clichĂ©d out-for-sex characters and fleshes them out, making them real people and not just high school stereotypes. Surprise, Jules isn’t just using Seth for alcohol, she actually likes him. When Seth finally downs enough liquid courage to make his sloshy move, Jules, who doesn’t drink at all, shoots him down because he’s too drunk. Evan, in a sweet but misguided gambit, gets himself thrashed so he doesn’t feel like he’s taking advantage of the very wasted Becca who has made several bedroom promises to him.

In making these kids real people, Superbad takes you into its world. You want Seth and Evan to succeed and you hope that their friendship will endure. Fogell never really materializes into anything realistic, but he’s at least likeable and funny so it doesn’t matter. Even the police officers, though still brain-dead, are more than they seem at first glance.

The film ends on a bittersweet note, with Seth and Evan parting ways in the mall with their respective female counterparts. It turns out that they didn’t get into the same college but as Seth, descending the escalator with Jules, looks lovingly at his friend you know that everything is going to be alright. The friendship between these two characters is the heart and soul of the film and it never forgets that.

Though Superbad isn’t perfect and it flounders a little bit here and there it’s consistently hilarious, occasionally gross, and fairly realistic, but never stupid. None of the characters step outside of themselves for a joke or gag and the 70’s swagger in the stride and very name of the film is a nice addition. Educational institutions take note, Judd Apatow should be teaching classes on comedy at your campus; he has clearly mastered the language.

****

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