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Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: Superbad (2007)


* * *

Director: Greg Motolla
Starring: Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

I missed out on Superbad when it first came out, which didn't seem much of a loss to me at the time, given that I'm not really the demographic it's aiming for. Seeing it recently, I was surprised at how different it actually is from how it was marketted. Yes, it's a foul mouthed story about teenage boys who just want to get laid, but it's also strangely sweet and, of course, very funny.

The heroes of the story are Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) who, not coincidentally, share their names with screenwriters Seth Rogan (who also appears in a supporting role) and Evan Goldberg. High school graduation is looming and both are still virgins - a problem they feel must be solved before they head off to college. Evan has a long standing thing for Becca (Martha MacIsaac), whom Seth hates for reasons explained later in the film, and Seth has his sights set on Jules (Emma Stone), who is throwing a party to which the guys, to their amazement, are invited. They promise to bring plenty of booze, counting on their friend Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) to help them out once he gets his fake ID, only to discover that he has bought the least convincing fake ID ever.

While Fogell enjoys an adventure of his own with a couple of cops (Seth Rogan and Bill Hader), Evan and Seth's quest for sex turns into a desperate quest for liquor that will hopeful pave the way for sex. Along the way they reach the crisis point in their friendship as the simmering tension over the fact that they'll be going to different colleges but can't admit that they'll miss each other ('cause, you know, they're dudes) starts to chip away at their bond. It's part of the film's charm that the big declarations towards the end occur between the two guys rather than between them and the girls they like.

Part of the reason why Superbad works as well as it does is that it's smartly written. There's a lot of foul language but it's used in a way that seems natural rather than obnoxious and is very keyed into how the novelty of cursing is still fresh enough for teenagers that it can be used to articulate every point. Eventually the desire to punctuate every sentence with "fuck" or "shit" will wear off, but when you're 17/18 it can seem like the most effective tool of expression. I think what's most important about Superbad's use of language is that it never seems to throw cursing into the dialogue simply for the sake of using it, but actually uses it in a way that tells you something about the character it's coming from. Seth and Evan both use a lot of foul language, but if you really listen to them you can hear the differences in the ways that they use it and see how that helps to construct their individual personas.

To get back to my original point about how I'm not the target demographic for this kind of movie, part of the thing that gave me pause about it was lines like: "You know when you hear girls say, 'Man, I was so shit-faced last night, I shouldn't have fucked that guy'? We could be that mistake!" That's a really troubling attitude and any guy whose goal is to be the guy a girl regrets sleeping with because she was too drunk to think better of it is going to have some difficulty in convincing me that he has admirable qualities in addition to these, uh, rapey qualities. Part of what saves Superbad for me is that it goes in the opposite direction in terms of the characters' actions. Evan has the chance to have sex with a very drunk and aggressive Becca, but ultimately declines. He also asks Seth to stop talking smack about her, which is nice because it's so rare in film to see an example of a guy (especially a teenage guy) who wants to have sex with a girl but can still be respectful about her - usually the girl who is the object of sexual desire and the girl worthy of respect are two different characters.

Superbad may not be the most sophisticated of films, but there's definitely more to it than meets the eye. It's a better film than I had expected and it's certainly one of the better examples from the teen sex comedy genre. It's often crude, but it's also got heart and, importantly, a brain.

8 comments:

Mike Lippert said...

I love everything about this movie except the cops who are stupid and annonying (especially since one is played by Bill Hayter). They tend to take away from the rest of the movie, which is halfway belivable and ruin that with really really dumb comedy. That's too bad because otherwise, you're right the movie is smart and has a good heart. I think maybe that's why I liked Adventureland more: it was a little more mature without losing the big laughs or compromising itself by falling into silly humour. Good review

The Floating Red Couch said...

I'm in the camp that says -- sure, Michael Cera deciding not to have sex with a passed out girl shows that he's a good guy, but the girls to begin with don't have much depth. Like, with all due respect to teen girls and their hormones, I've never met any cute, preppy chicks that were all "I'm gonna get drunk and have sex with that nerd that I've barely talked to." And I should know, I was that nerd. All fo Rogen's movies, especially these early ones, just smack of soft-core shlub porn.

Rachel said...

I'll agree that I too was surprised by how much I liked the film, also not being a member of the target demographic. However, I liked it for the opposite reasons of Mike: I thought the McLovin/cops side story was far more entertaining than a foul-mouthed Jonah Hill, whom I can't stand. I will agree with Mike in that Adventureland is far superior film though.

Norma Desmond said...

@Mike Lippert: Yeah, the cops undercut whatever believability the film ultimately has. However, without that subplot the film would be sorely lacking in McLovin, so it's a trade off I guess.

@The Floating Red Couch: Agreed that the girls lack depth. The only real difference between them is that Seth likes one and Evan likes the other. However, not expecting much in the way of character dimentionality, I wasn't disappointed.

@Rachel: Agreed about Jonah Hill. There's just something about him that really sets my teeth on edge.

Danny King said...

I really need to re-watch this film. I wasn't particularly impressed the first time around, but I've since fallen in love with Mottola's "Adventureland," and although it is a very different film, I feel like I should give it another shot.

The Floating Red Couch said...

While we're on the subject (we're not on the subject), I tagged you for this other list thingy. Top ten something-er-other...
http://www.floatingredcouch.com/2010/04/top-10-thingy.html

M. Carter @ the Movies said...

I was wholly UNsurprised how much I liked "Superbad" because: a) I like Jonah Hill, b) Michael Cera does play the same character over and over again, but I like that character and c) I've been a fan of Seth Rogen since "Freaks and Geeks." And his movie has a lot more heart than you'd think, plus enough dirty words and crazy antics to appease the horny teen in all of us.

Poor Christopher Mintz-Plasse, though. This movie made him famous, but like Jon Heder he'll always be attached to that one character he played when he was young.

fake id said...

This is truely a brilliant film, the McLovin character is a classic. Think i may put the film on now and re watch it :-)