A film review by Craig J. Koban

August 20, 2007


2007, R, 114 mins.

Seth: Jonah Hill / Evan: Michael Cera / Fogell: Christopher Mintz-Plasse / Officer Slater: Bill Hader / Officer Michaels: Seth Rogen / Jules: Emma Stone

Directed by Greg Mottola /  Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

It has been said that SUPERBAD is based on a screenplay that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg began writing when they were 13-years-old.  Exactly how much of their script is entirely true-to-life is questionable, but what is not disputable is that the film is an unapologetic raunch-filled, potty mouth laced, adolescent hormone induced, and R-rated laugh riot.

SUPERBAD is not only foul mouthed; it’s remarkably foul mouthed, almost as if it was competing in some sort of lewd spectator sport.  According to a September 2007 Maxim Magazine article (which, to my astonishment, has more than just nice pictures), everyone’s favorite four-letter curse word is uttered 186 times during the film's 114 minutes.  SUPERBAD is not a film for kids; its very, very appropriately rated R for (let me stretch my knuckles and fingers before I type this) "Pervasive crude and sexual content, strong language, drinking, some drug use and a fantasy/comic violent image, all involving teens.” 

And for that…I say…thank-you.

The film is in the great tradition of other adult rated odysseys of scatological debauchery and excess (like NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE and DAZED IN CONFUSED).  However, as was the case with the aforementioned film, it also does what all great teen sex comedies do:  It makes us care about its characters, whom are oftentimes misguided and woefully naïve teen losers on the fringes of their social gene pool.  The trio of teens in SUPERBAD – played in unison by three of the truly funniest performances of the year by Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, and an wonderful new find, Christopher Mintz-Plasse – speak in a shocking barrage of sickening usages of the most naughty of words, often combined with X-rated descriptions of the male and female sex organs and their cohabitation together.  Yet, there is an undeniable sweetness and innate likeability to these adolescent degenerates.  Sure, they deserve to have their collective mouths washed out with soap for all of eternity, but, deep down, they really are decent chaps that genuinely care about friendship.

Oh…and getting laid and drunk.

Conservative minds that are too quick to label SUPERBAD as ill tempered and shamefully odious because of its acid-tongued dialogue kind of overlook the meaning behind the content.   Yes, these young boys speak like longshoremen, but the characters' colorful and shockingly verbose use of terms and words oftentimes reflects the gullibility and ignorance of their youth.  The film is clever in its pornographic conversations; actually, it’s downright lyrical and intelligent with its dialogue at times (imagine Mamet writing teen conversations and you have the idea) to the point where you don’t really chastise it, but kind of sickly admire it for its timing and rhythm.  One key truism of male life is that men, for the most part, don’t understand what women think or what they want.  Teen boys, to a larger degree, really don’t know what the hell women are about.  The notion that the kids in SUPERBAD refer to woman as things to be ogled at and to fulfill their twisted masturbatory fantasies seems inevitably normal to me.  After all, when you're a young man graduating from high school, are high on life, have boundless energy, and desperately do not wish to go to college a mournful, sexual novice (gasp!), then how else would you see women?

SUPERBAD understands this perfectly.  It wisely understands the complete ignorance that its hapless saps have towards girls, but it also rightfully displays how deep yearning and insatiable lust can – in the long run- change who you are and how you view people.  The film accurately puts the sexually-angst-ridden male ego on display and shows its teens wanting sex so badly that -  when they actually are faced with approaching a girl and talking to them - they become hopeless amateurs.  These guys are so indescribably horny that their primeval impulses override their brains.  One kid wants sex, but is so overcome with awkwardness and shyness when approaching the girl of his dreams that he can’t even notice – when a blind man could see it – that the girl is smitten with him.

I think that this is the key to why SUPERBAD is such a success.  All great teen sex comedies had believable youth figures that were not just redundant and poorly drawn caricatures imported in to the screenplay for cheap, puerile laughs.  Like the best recent comedies, like THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP (both directed by SUPERBAD’S producer, Judd Apatow, and the latter co-written by Seth Rogen), this film understands that the best way to counterbalance debauchery and rambunctiously crude material is with a nice undercurrent of charm and sincerity with its characters.  Sure, the kids in SUPERBAD act like they want to get hammered and laid as much as possible, but deep down they are flawed, vulnerable, and sensitive creatures that come to love and respect their interdependency with one another.  Scoring with chicks comes and goes, but true friendship is hard to come by.

Like DAZED AND CONFUSED and AMERICAN GRAFFITI – two of the best films about teens of their time – SUPERBAD follows the exploits of sex-starved teens over the course of one wild night.  The plot seems a bit routine and straightforward, but that should not be seen as a hindrance; the film works more of the levels of character interplay and chemistry.  We are quickly introduced to three high school misfits, the kind of outsiders that jocks seem to take great pains to step all over (in one cruel scene, a jock invites one of them out to his party by spitting right on him).  There’s Evan (perfectly channeling a type of Ben Stiller-esque social awkwardness and tepidness by the very funny Michael Cera), Seth (Jonah Hill, who kind of reminds me of a teen Chris Penn), and Fogell (played to screechy and shrill voiced greatness by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, a real life high school teen before he got this part at an open casting call).  They all are foils to one another: Evan is shy and mild-mannered around girls; Seth is an overweight slob and incessant motor mouth that thinks that the only way a boy of his stature will score with a girl is to get her drunk; and Fogell is a nerd of Level 10, Napoleon Dynamite geekiness that thinks he’s "with-it" when he is actually a major doofus.

Actually, Fogell is so blind with how socially inept and inexperienced he is that when he even tries to get a fake I.D., it’s an such an atrocious bit of fakery that no one with a head of their shoulders would take it for real.  The reveal of the ID is one of the film’s most hilarious moments.  Not only is it from the state of Hawaii, but it also lists his year of birth at 1981, making him 25 (he looks like he’s 15).  The icing on the cake is his name, or lack of a last one.  In what is sure to become a classic, iconic pop culture reference, his fake name is “McLovin”…period.  When looking at the grossly counterfeit card, Evan humorously deadpans, “The guys either going think 'here's another guy with a fake ID', or 'here's McLovin, 25 year old Hawaiian organ donor'.”  Being absolutely desperate, Evan and Seth place their night in the hands of McLovin, seeing as they promised two cute girls that they would have no problem buying their favourite alcoholic drinks for a party.  Seth has his eyes set for Jules (Emma Stone) and Evan is after Becca (Martha MacIsaac) and they think that they key to their hearts is a bottle of GoldSlick.

Amazingly, Fogell’s I.D. fools the off-sale clerk, and just when he’s about to get the goods, he is punched to the ground by an armed robber.  The cops show up, and Evan and Seth mistakenly think that their buddy has been busted and flee.   The officers that come to the scene are Slater (SNL’s Bill Hader) and Michaels (co-writer himself, Seth Rogen).  Of course, Fogell is scared you-know-what-less by the boys in blue.  Yet, he’s surprised to find that these cops are probably the most lenient and non-law-abiding ones ever to appear in a mainstream film.  Not only do they eventually take Fogell to cruise with them on the beat, but they also involve him in an arrest at a bar, a night of binge drinking while on duty, the hitting of a pedestrian while intoxicated in the police car, and the eventual destruction of said car with a Molotov cocktail.  The funny angle with Fogell and the two cops is that they don’t make life difficult for the legally underage teen; when they meet him they take a liking to him.  They see in him what they were like when they were his age: a teen that naturally distrusts and hates cops.  As a result, their night is all about them showing Fogell that – gee whiz – cops like to party too.

Evan and Seth do end up at the party with the two girls, but only after a series of horrible misadventures which involves Evan being hit not once, but twice with a car, secretly stashing stolen beer in laundry detergent bottles, and having a girl at another party leave a particular bodily fluid on his pants while dancing that occurs at her “time” of the month.  I won’t spoil any more of the film and what happens at the climatic party, but let’s just say that – when all of their shenanigans are over and done with – the boys learn some truths about who they are and what being true friends is all about.  They also gain the wisdom that a girl that digs you will not have to be bribed with a shooter.

SUPERBAD achieves high comedic plateaus when dealing with its young men at crucibles in their lives.  Surely, the plot could have been fodder for yet another dumb and juvenile teen comedy.  Yet, the film is not as lewd as other past comedies (there’s ample bad language, but the gross out gags are more subtle, and nudity is all but vacant, outside of a montage of riotously funny renderings of the male appendage done by Evan as a young boy).  No, the real heart of the film is that it has one.  The reason SUPERBAD resonates so strongly is because you can understand and relate to these misfits and their issues.  When Seth and Evan have a heated argument about their future, you sense real pain and resentment in their words.  In an age where teens are cardboard cutouts and two dimensional, SUPERBAD creates a real verisimilitude in its troubled youth.  It is also greatly aided by the fact that its three main teens actually look like teens.  This is one of the first films in a long while that had the intelligence and foresight to not cast actors in their late 20’s to play high school graduates.  That choice would have wrecked the film’s effect.  Since we buy into the actors in the film, we more intently buy into them as characters.

If the film has a few faults then it would be in its length (it runs about 10-15 minutes longer for its own good) and for the cop characters (however funny Hader and Rogen are as the bumbling, beer-drinking, and chain smoking cops with no level of adult authority, they seem a bit out of touch with the tone of the rest of the film around them).  They certainly would occupy a great screwball farce, but here they seem like an odd fit to the reality-based atmosphere the other characters occupy.  Nevertheless, SUPERBAD is a great achievement in the teen sex comedy genre, one that is oh-so-hard to pull off successfully.  Here’s a film that, upon a cursory look at it, is about young horny boys that want to get plastered, nail women, and go to college as experienced sex machines.  Yet, underneath that all is a subtle depiction of the misery and nagging uncertainty that the teens have with themselves and the future.  Like THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP, SUPERBAD is a super-lewd and crude endurance test of raunch and sleaze, but it also has something genuine and earnest to say about its characters and their predicament.  It simply is one of the best comedies of the summer.

And for that…I McLoved it.

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