When it comes to the sexual drive of teenagers, the new comedy Superbad makes no bones about it—but perhaps that's a poor choice of words for a comedy comically obsessed with penises. Since American Pie, the teen sex comedy has made a comeback, but Superbad is a cut above. Thanks to a creative team that includes producer Judd Apatow and writer-performer Seth Rogen—who together sired Knocked Up earlier this summer—we can close out the season with a riotous story of friendship, debauchery, and pizza bagels.
Jonah Hill (also of Knocked Up) and Michael Cera (Arrested Development's hilariously awkward George-Michael) play Seth and Evan, two graduating high-school seniors desperate to score beer for a party where they intend to hook up with their crushes. The quest is complicated when their nerdy friend-with-an-I.D. Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) winds up on an impromptu ride-along with two disastrous beat cops (Rogen and Bill Hader). The character's names reveal that Superbad, while mostly made up out of whole cloth, is emotionally autobiographical for writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.
With Apatow's guidance, the film has some semi-dramatic beats about the importance of male friendship, and the love so often unspoken between heterosexual males. But the film is also cheerily immature. Casual homophobic slurs build to "guy love" theatrics: a scene devoted to the drunken "I love you" and another which plays like a cross between the song "Wedding Bells Are Breaking up That Old Gang of Mine" and Brokeback Mountain in a mall.
There's actually far less gay panic than heterosexual panic in Superbad. Witness the unpleasant cameo by Carla Gallo, Rogen's co-star on Apatow's TV series Undeclared (hint: her character is credited only as "Period Blood Girl"). The boys' intended hookups are foils crafted to enhance the boy's foibles and unnerve them in the extreme, though the girls repeatedly prove willing to cut even a slacker some slack.
The title and music (with cuts from Bootsy Collins & the Superbad Band, including Bernie Worrell) suggest a style older than the film's stars, but the silly dance-move credits immediately suggest that the two leads are not quite in step with style. The suspicion is confirmed long before Evan finds himself compelled to warble a song that topped the charts in 1969. But it's hip to be square again, an idea with which Apatow is right in step.
Like most mainstream comedies, Superbad relies on personality. Hill's distracted demeanor captures the familiar quality of living in the future rather than the present; when his frustration peaks, he conjures John Belushi at full throttle. Cera is nothing less than the teen Bob Newhart, with precision stutters and pauses marking his halting progress through life. And Mintz-Plasse is every nerd who willed himself into coolness with misplaced self-confidence.
What ultimately saves Apatow and his writers from comic oblivion is their appreciation for conversational alleyways and verbal absurdities, many discovered through improvisation. It's the unusual teen comedy in which you'll hear one character kvetch that when it comes to girls, he's peaked too early and another reply, "You're like Orson Welles." Thoroughly profane and with an ear for teenage trash talk, Superbad is funny and (relax, Mom and Dad) also turns out to have a heart in the right place.
[For Groucho's interview with Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, & Christopher Mintz-Plasse, click here.]