Superbad (U.S., 2007) * * *
D: Greg Mottola
Fearing that I was missing out on the Judd Apatow zeitgeist (I saw The 40-Year-Old Virgin only on DVD, and still haven't seen Knocked Up or the Freaks and Geeks show he produced), it was with great anxiousness that I checked out Superbad on its opening night with a crowd full of teenagers who could easily have stepped out of the film. In fact, the guy who served me popcorn was a dead ringer for Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), or, as the character's ludicrous fake ID says, "McLovin." That's the best-known gag, spoiled in the trailer and every single review of this film, but the great thing about Superbad is that you can't really spoil the humor: it's in the delivery of every line, thanks to impeccable casting. Michael Cera, as Evan, is the best-known among a cast of unknowns; he was Jason Bateman's tormented son, lusting after his cousin, in "Arrested Development." Jonah Hill plays his best friend, Seth, and the two form an inseparable duo--the great tension of the film, if there is any, is that they're about to separated for good when they head off to different colleges. One of the more amusing aspects of Superbad is that it acts as though this is just the latest film in an ongoing series of The Adventures of Evan and Seth (undoubtedly named after the film's screenwriters, old friends Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen), so that when we learn at the outset that the two will be split apart at the summer's end, it carries an improbably heavy weight. So the single day and night over which Superbad takes place is their Last Great Adventure; like so many teen comedies of the 80's--and late 90's--it's about getting laid. Evan has eyes for Becca (Martha MacIsaac), his old friend whom Seth treats with mild disdain (read: sublimated jealousy). Seth has the loftier goal of scoring with a girl he barely knows, the hottie Jules (Emma Stone). When Seth is paired with Jules in a Home Ec class (after an hilarious, openly pissed-off plea to the teacher for assistance), he somehow manages to secure an invitation to her graduation party, on the unstated condition that he provide alcohol. This is where McLovin comes in; Fogel has secured what is undoubtedly the least convincing fake ID in history, but all hopes ride on him to fulfill of grocery list of specific beverages, which will lead to entry to the party, and will hopefully lead to someone getting lucky.
Nothing goes according to plan. Fogel becomes involved with two immature cops (Seth Rogen and Bill Hader, hysterical), who somehow envision the nerdy Fogel as their key ingredient to a wild night of drunken patrolling. Evan and Seth try alternate means to secure liquor, at one point visiting a party occupied by thugs and cokeheads. This leads to the film's one obligatory "very dirty joke," which almost spoils the fun. I still blame There's Something About Mary for ruining the American comedy for a solid decade, and the menstrual blood joke in Superbad is here not because it's funny (it really isn't, and ruins the film's hard-earned realism and credibility), but because the audience expects it. My Friday night crowd was appreciative in a very rote manner. They would have felt conned if they didn't get at least one gross-out joke. But on the other hand, they might feel conned anyway, in the subtle way Superbad subverts expectations. All of the girls leave their bras on, for one thing. None of our young protagonists are forced to drop their pants in humiliation, either. And most unexpectedly of all, the resolution--as compared to, say, American Pie--is fairly chaste, as reality weighs in upon our young cast of characters: there's very little sex to be had in Superbad, because, let's face it, Seth and Evan, for all their talk, have no idea how to handle it; they don't even have girlfriends. Instead, we find that drinking is not the ticket to sex but a possible horrible disruptor, and that a relationship might actually involve stifling your machismo and acting with a modest degree of maturity. Yep, Judd Apatow produced this film, and just like 40-Year-Old Virgin, there's a dignity and a sense of responsibility lurking beneath the raunch and the outrageousness. Mind you, the raunch and the outrageousness are a lot of fun, and Superbad, at its best, has all the inappropriate hilarity of an obscene remark belted out in the middle of an uptight History class.