Reel Opinions

Friday, August 17, 2007


Hype can be a dangerous thing, especially for a comedy. Months before its release, Superbad was already being hailed by many as one of the great comedies of the year. Of course, these same kind of words were spoken of before Knocked Up was released in June, which was made by and features many of the same people as this film. I was not a fan of Knocked Up, as I thought it was nothing more than a generic sitcom-quality romantic comedy plot with four letter words and pop culture references, combined with thinly developed and unlikeable characters who I just didn't care about. The fact that Superbad was met with much of the same amount of hype, and had already spawned its own catch phrase and T-shirts before most people had even seen it worried me greatly. Would I be setting myself up for another disappointment?

Much to my relief, Superbad really is a truly funny movie, and a much better film all around in my opinion than Knocked Up. Where the previous film unsuccessfully stuck stoner and geek cliches into a moldy plot where they didn't even belong in the first place, Superbad focuses solely on the characters and lets them be themselves. The movie is crude and sometimes quite tasteless, but it is never disgusting, and we never stop wanting to see the characters succeed, even in their most perverse of goals. For all of its laughs, this is a very human story about friendship and growing up at its core. It's mind may sometimes be in the gutter, but its heart is always in the right place. Superbad may not be one of the great comedies of 2007, or even one of the great films, but it is a highly entertaining one, which is what counts more than all the hype and T-shirt sales in the world.

Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) are life-long best friends who have never been popular in school, so they have always relied on each other. With high school graduation just weeks away, combined with the fact that they will be separated after the summer due to the fact they are off to different colleges, the two are determined to close their time together with a bang. The best way to do this, they figure, is to finally lose their virginity during a graduation party. And the best way to do this, they realize, is to score some alcohol for a party, which will presumably automatically give them a chance with the women they have individually longed for through most of school (Emma Stone and Martha MacIsaac). They rely on someone even less popular than them, a nerdy outcast named Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), to score the booze after Fogell obtains a fake ID with the assumed name of "McLovin". The simple act of buying alcohol with a fake ID becomes complicated to the extreme when the store is held up during the act of purchasing the booze, and Fogell ends up in the company of two crooked cops (Seth Rogen and Bill Hader) who take him on a wild night on the town. As for Seth and Evan, they will be forced to take many detours as they try to find an alternative way of getting a hold of some alcohol and try to make it to the party on time.

The fact that the two lead characters share the same first names as the two credited writers, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, is no coincidence. The two supposedly grew up as friends, and wrote the screenplay back when they were 14-years-old, loosely basing the film on their own experiences and views on adolescence. The script's obviously been touched up quite a bit over the years, but it's clear that this is one of the key reasons why Superbad works. There is a certain honesty to the film that captures perfectly what it is like to be an awkward teen who never fits into any sort of social group or cannot be narrowed into a clique. The movie is quite often hilarious in its depiction of the various misadventures of the three leads that they are forced to overcome. While the movie is a bit overlong, and sometimes shifts focus too frequently away from Seth and Evan, it never truly drags and manages to keep a consistent comic momentum running throughout. And yet, that's not what impressed me the most about Superbad. What impressed me is how much the movie truly cares about all of its characters. It's not just Seth and Evan, but everyone for the most part is written as an honest depiction instead of a caricature. The teenage characters are written in a very real way so that they come across as people you may have known yourself in high school, instead of the standard cliche types we've come to expect. The movie does lose its way a little bit in the two cop characters whom Fogell spends most of the night with. While everyone else has a somewhat realistic tone to them, these guys seem to have wandered in from another movie. It never becomes a huge problem, but they did stick out just enough for me to notice. They also seem to take over most of the middle section of the movie, taking attention away from the central characters.

When the movie is on track (which is most of the time), it really is a very enjoyable film. The fact that this may be Seth and Evan's last big adventure with each other is constantly in the back of the movie's mind. For all of its talk of booze and sex, this really is a movie about these two life-long friends being forced to grow apart from each other. This is brought home in the film's quiet and subtle final scene at a mall, which not only ends the film on a perfect note, but ends it in a very realistic way that is somewhat open ended instead of neatly tied up. A lot of what makes the characters work are the performances of Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, who actually have a certain chemistry together that make you believe they have been friends all their lives, despite their differences. Jonah Hill has acted in a couple teen comedies the past two years or so, but this is the first time he's truly had to carry one, and he does a great job at it. He gets some of the film's biggest laughs (such as when he imagines different methods and outcomes of trying to steal some liquor from a store), and is able to handle the large range of scenes and emotions that the character goes through quite well. He can be giving a foul-mouthed rant one minute, and can be sweet and compassionate the next. Michael Cera is a bit more subdued in his performance, but is nonetheless equally effective as the much more down-to-earth Evan. The supporting cast is equally talented, with newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse being a stand out as the nerdy Fogell. He's able to avoid most of the "nerd" cliches that we expect when we first see his character, and create a somewhat honest, but nonetheless hilarious, portrayal.
There's so many things that Superbad does right that when it does slip a little from time to time (mainly the material concerning the two cops), you notice it, but don't really mind since the movie always manages to get back on its feet. The movie manages to pull off a tricky balancing act between raunchy humor, honesty, and heart. I was thinking about a lot of things walking out of the movie. I wasn't just thinking about my favorite jokes, but also some personal memories of myself that the movie had brought up. I wouldn't be surprised if some other people have the same experience. This is a nostalgic and heart-felt film that has a lot of laughs, but most of all, the courage to bring it all together and not cop out.



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