Sexually charged Superbad tries to mix humor, derision
First, a warning: Superbad is rated R for a reason. Those who blush at everyday sexual innuendos will likely experience unspeakable embarrassment while viewing it. Utter shock is not out of the question. To a fault, Superbad incessantly flaunts sexuality and sometimes unabashedly tasteless descriptions thereof, and it does so with few concessions to unsettled crowd members.
While there is no official or narrative connection to this summer’s hit comedy Knocked Up, the humor is immediately reminiscent, as writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have returned to add their comedic touch. That said, Superbad offers some of the year’s most original and most crude sexual comedy, often in the same line. Coming out of a long tradition of adolescent humor, Superbad is the sucker-punch that the high-school-buddy movie had coming for a long time, a new high — or low — for an old genre that has needed a reality check for years.
The ’80s and ’90s saw a slew of high school romances and comedies that focused — naively — on the the fairytale romances of Stereotype High’s prom kings and queens. Rather than showing the life of the typical student, films focused on the top of the pecking order, the prominent figures of adolescent society. Consider the jocks of She’s All That, the cheerleaders of Bring it On, and the assorted good-looking kids of American Pie. Occasionally, the scripts granted a view of those who interrupted the perfect lives of the ideal students.
The relentless parody Not Another Teen Movie marked the beginning of a transition that led away from the classic high-school aristocracy flick, leading to a film like Superbad. Here thee characters are, metaphorically speaking, so deep in the audience of high school life that their story all but removes the fourth wall. Rogen and Goldberg approach the realities of high school life with almost reckless abandon. They pull no punches in their painful ridicule of their unlikely heroes, Seth (Evan Almighty’s Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera of “Arrested Development”).
Rogen and Goldberg waste no time in pointing out what most guys would probably never admit: Sex is the primary motivator of the adolescent male. Superbad opens on Seth’s and Evan’s discussion about which pornography Web site they plan to subscribe to. Contrasting with nauseously idealistic stories of finding love in a school’s top ranks, these protagonists are clearly at the bottom of the social ladder.
Seth and Evan are weeks from graduating from high school — a locale that goes unnamed, showing that school is not really important except as setting. The testosterone-filled stars stand months from college matriculation, leaving only a short summer for them to become sexual maestros in preparation for university life. For their master plan, Seth and Evan offer to provide the alcohol for a local party, hoping to lower everyone’s purity scores by hooking up with drunk classmates. They hope to then date these hook-ups for the summer while getting “two months of solid sex” before heading off to college.
The force of the humor in Superbad comes from the realism with which Rogen, Goldberg and director Greg Mottola (“Arrested Development”) pursue the storyline. Rather than glossing over the less attractive aspects of teenage sexual frustration, Superbad’s realism reaches down into the even most mundane conversations of the film. Much like the cast of Knocked Up, the characters in Superbad do not talk like a freak set of Ivy League-educated children; they speak with the words, expletives and insults heard outside of theaters and inside cafeterias and study halls.
Far-fetched comedy sequences — mostly featuring the infamous “McLovin” (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and two police officers (Rogen and Knocked Up’s Bill Hader) — punctuate scenes where the script approaches its serious topic too bluntly.
Reactions to Superbad will undoubtedly be polarized: Half the audience will leave the theater wanting a refund, the other wanting a second showing. Much like Knocked Up, Superbad’s intensity in its approach to the subject matter will at times reveal that the comedy masks a piercing criticism of its characters. Superbad laughs about sex a lot but condescends to the oft-perverse social life led by American youth. It masquerades as a comedy in order to cater to the very crowd it pillories.
However, Rogen and Goldberg fail to carry their criticism to a wide enough audience, alienating a certain section with the abundaat phallus-based humor peppering the film. Superbad would find a more elegant solution to the problem of communicating its point without distancing half of its potential audience.
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