- Michael Cera and Jonah Hill manage to make something sweet out of Superbad's super-raunchy script.
The latest comic meteorite from the galaxy of producer Judd Apatow, Superbad is about two chronically unpopular best friends who, after four years stuck on the lowest rung of the high-school social ladder, find themselves invited to a legitimately cool party. Goodbye, Friday nights chugging Old Milwaukees in their parents' furnished basements; hello, getting shit-faced in the company of a few dozen not particularly close friends. More important, having completed their independent study in internet porn, our heroes finally get the chance to put their virtual carnal knowledge to practical use. Provided, that is, they can actually get to the party.
Yes, Superbad is about one of those nights -- when you finally have the chance to prove that you're not as big a dork as everyone thinks, only to get chased by the cops, hit by a car (twice), and nearly pulverized by the dude whose girlfriend's menstrual blood somehow ends up on your pant leg, while also managing to drunkenly embarrass yourself in front of the one girl you have real feelings for. You know, one of those nights.
Superbad was written by Knocked Up star Seth Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg, who cooked up the script's first draft when they were in high school. This helps to explain why it feels so knowing -- particularly in its clumsily averted hormonal glances and frank discussion of the best way to camouflage an erection. (Rogen and Goldberg even named the lead characters after themselves.) But they are equally recognizable as specimens bred in the gene pool of producer Apatow (40-Year-Old Virgin, Freaks and Geeks) -- the sort of kids who seem a touch young for their age, are more book-smart than street-smart, and live in abject terror at the thought of going off to college with their virginity intact.
More geek than freak, chubby, motormouthed Seth (Jonah Hill) perpetually brings up the rear in gym class and gets spat on by the resident senior-class bully. Gangly, soft-spoken Evan (Michael Cera) -- who can run like the wind, but doesn't really get sports -- stands dutifully at Seth's side, an introspective Sancho to his brash Quixote. True to form, they pine for girls who seem out of their respective leagues: Evan for nice-girl Becca (Martha MacIsaac), whose obvious flirtations he cluelessly rebuffs; Seth for the comely Jules (Emma Stone). An act of divine intervention eventually pairs Seth and Jules in a home-economics project, leading the popular girl to invite the dork (and his dork friend) to her graduation party. But, as mentioned, getting to that hallowed place proves easier said than done. In fact, it turns into something like the Lord of the Rings of adolescent nookie movies -- a calamitous, hazard-filled journey toward the fiery gates of Mount Poon.
At 19 and 23 respectively, Cera and Hill have the fully developed comic timing of seasoned pros, like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in sneakers and cargo shorts. But Superbad is routinely stolen out from under them by an 18-year-old newcomer, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who was plucked from MySpace obscurity to play dweeby third wheel Fogell. Mintz-Plasse embraces the part with such unbridled comic brio that the character -- and his fake-ID alias, McLovin -- is bound for movie-comedy immortality.
Following a hilariously botched attempt by our intrepid trio to buy booze using said ID, Superbad effectively splits along two parallel tracks: Seth and Evan navigate their own circuitous route to Jules' house, while Fogell/McLovin gets an unexpected lift from two police officers (played by Rogen and Saturday Night Live's Bill Hader) who make the Keystone Kops look like paragons of law and order.
Directed by Greg Mottola (an alumnus, like Hill, of Apatow's short-lived TV series Undeclared), Superbad is often achingly funny, brewed from the now-familiar Apatow blend of go-for-broke slapstick and instantly quotable, potty-mouthed dialogue. ("I'm so jealous you got to suck on those tits when you were a baby," a wistful Seth tells Evan after an encounter with his friend's amply bosomed mother.) But what sets Superbad far apart from the American Pie series -- what places it alongside American Graffiti, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Dazed and Confused, in that elite strata of high-school comedies destined to last -- is its sweet, soulful vulnerability. Eventually, it becomes clear that Seth and Evan feel more anxious about losing each other, in the fall when they head to separate colleges, than losing their virginity. That naughty-but-nice approach might seem something of an Apatow cliché by now, if the characters themselves didn't ring so true. Make no mistake: Superbad is a movie about getting wasted and getting laid, but it is above all an ode to the end of teenage innocence in all its wonderful, horrible splendor.