Reviewed by Sam Hatch
To borrow and twist a phrase sung at the climax of another wildly popular film under the raunch humor parasol of comedy mastermind Judd Apatow – this is the dawning of the age of… McLovin!
Superbad (which was actually directed by Greg Mottola, though written by Apatow mainstay Seth Rogen and his partner Evan Goldberg) is without a doubt the funniest film of the year. Not only is it wet-your-pants hilarious, it's also one of those perfect films in which every scene is exactly what it should be. It's one of those instant classics that will be watched and quoted for years, much like many eighties films from the John Hughes watershed era such as Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
In fact, Apatow and his merry band of perverted geniuses have created a new golden age in comedic filmmaking that will surely rival the oeuvre of Hughes. Someone should give these guys some crowns and make it official. While the adverts for the film may have people thinking more along the lines of the American Pie movies they're in for a treat, because this film tackles the same material with so much more skill and wit. And to borrow another Rogen phrase, the American Pie series gargles my balls.
Speaking of which, those faint of heart and easily offended should stay miles away from this film, which realistically captures the filthy potty mouths of average teens and sports more usage of the f-bomb than Scarface. Imagine the trashiest talk from previous Apatow masterworks Knocked Up and 40 Year Virgin, and stretch that out along a nearly two hour running time.
Rogen and Goldberg have been reportedly working on this script for years, and rewrote it ad infinitum for scores of movie studios who have all declared it 'unfilmable'. It's based on a series of incidents (some embellished, some less so) spread across their entire high school experience. I have to say that in recent years I began to question whether or not all the funny hijinks that happened to me in my teens were really funny at all – since most other fictionalized retellings of high school antics frankly suck.
Thanks to Rogen and Goldberg, I have restored my faith in the wonderfully insane events kids invariably encounter when they'll do anything for a bit of trim. It's a bonus that the script is so richly layered, though the writers give Apatow credit for helping them find the heart of the story amidst a pile of dick jokes. On the surface it's a nerdish version of The Odyssey, with two super horny kids looking to score a summer-long poundfest with some local girls before jetting off to college. It's also a rumination on the finality of graduation and the official demise of childhood's joys. Buried further in the strata is the tale of two guys who are “in love” with one another, trying to process the fact that either women or college (or both) are inevitably going to drive them apart.
Jonah Hill (recently seen in Knocked Up, and who looks like a chubbier version of the late Chris Penn) and Micheal Cera (Arrested Development) play Seth and Evan (hmm, wonder where those names came from…), a pair of kids who teeter on the edge of dorkdom and coolness. The film is refreshing in its depictions of high school kids, refusing to pigeonhole everyone into an unyielding type. These guys aren't exceptionally popular (they're spat on by a mullet-headed burnout named Jesse after he informs them that they're most definitely not invited to his graduation party), but they have their own support group and still talk to girls.
Jonah plays the spaz of the group, an energetic ball of crazy ideas and an undying drive to acquire ‘vaij' (particularly the ‘vaij' of classmate Jules, who is apparently unaware that she is too hot to consider dating or fellating Seth). Evan is the reserved one, who wants to believe in the notion of romance, and who would probably never do half of the crazy stuff he gets into without the manically energetic goading of Seth. They're type a and b personalities who complete one another.
Cera and Hill are both hilarious in radically differing ways. Seth never stops rambling, and knows how to spin a great obscenity laden yarn (such as his retelling of an early childhood obsession with drawing pictures of penises). Evan is more uptight (he gets frustrated that a PlayStation first person shooter is 'impossible to win', yet he never even breaks a sweat during his outburst of anger) but is no stranger to profanity spewing diatribes himself. One scene in which he repeatedly and calmly swears at his cell phone is great.
The odd man out in the group is newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the iconic Fogell, who is soon to become a cinema legend as the character McLovin. Fogell (who is prone to dropping numerous hip-hop slogans like “Break yo'self, fool!” in a cracking voice) is viewed as a worthless tagalong by Seth, but Evan has already secretly decided to 'cheat on' his b.f.f. by rooming with the uber-nerd at college the following year. The one thing Fogell does right is to gain access to a fake identification. In Seth's mind this leads to alcohol, which gives the owner a 'go straight to vagina' card.
Fogell's potential downfall is that he's opted to employ the single-word monicker 'McLovin' as his name on the license. The word is funny, and the gag never gets old as McLovin finds himself an unlikely partner to pair of slacker cops following a robbery at a liquor store. Rogen and SNL alum Bill Hader play Officers Michaels and Slater respectively, and they come off as an insane spin on the loser cops seen often on The Kids in the Hall. They have no interest in solving the crime, and only take calls that lead them to bars. They also seem to fall for the McLovin ruse, and decide to draft Fogell on a nightlong excursion into madness.
Seth and Evan mistake these events as their alcoholic supplier getting busted, and soon head off on their own twisted path following an auto accident with The State's Joe Lo Truglio as the creepy culprit (who's wanted for a ‘totally nonviolent crime' and wants to know if they are on myspace). Their thirst for poon reluctantly leads them into his car, as he promises to take them to a world of unlimited booze.
And so begins the mayhem, with Seth an Evan journeying on a winding trail that leads them through the scary realm of an 'adult' party while McLovin shoots straight through the middle of the tale with a pair of certifiable policemen. These scenes are a great example of cinematic fantasy fulfillment, for in the world of Superbad's Clark County, cops are the coolest guys around and encourage you to drink, tackle criminals and shoot random objects. It sounds a little farfetched, but there is a cute explanation for their behavior later in the film.
There are so many great gags that I'm loath to spill any more than I already have. Yet Superbad isn't great just for its ability to soil boxers through excessive laughter, it's also refreshingly genuine. It certainly portrays high school as the way I remember it being. I could easily imagine my younger self going on a rant against the useless nature of home economics class and tiramisu like Hill does in one early scene. Even peripheral characters such as Roger Iwata's Miroki (who becomes another thorn in Seth's side when he partners with Evan in class) have a genuine heart to them. Emma Stone (as Jules) and Martha MacIsaac (as Evan's chaste dreamgirl Becca) are both great as interesting characters who both turn out to be quite different from the way that they've been idealized by their suitors.
I also appreciated how it nails the give and take essence of friendship, and how one character underachieves yet feels secure because he has a partner in failure. As it usually pans out, the other person secretly excels and plans to move ahead in life (the bastard!). Superbad is a great, yearning tribute to the magical days of sleepovers and eating all your friends' parents' food. To the days when your biggest decision was whether or not to subscribe to a pornographic site called ‘The Vagtastic Voyage', and how to keep such transactions secret from your folks.
Like most Apatowian/Rogentastic material, the film is a bit long for the genre, but I say good for them. If the material is this damned enchanting, why not let it hang around for an extra half an hour? Some of the scenes aren't officially important in the larger scheme of things (such as Seth trying to decide if a pair of tight pants accentuate his genitals or just make him look fat), but there's always a laugh or two involved.
Most of all, I'm a sucker for 'one-night' films (in which characters experience a life-changing series of events over a twenty four hour period), or at least the great ones. Rogen and Goldberg were influenced by Hal Ashby's The Last Detail and Linklater's Dazed and Confused, but the same infectious feeling of one full day in which your entire life turns around is what made recent cult favorites such as Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle so infinitely rewatchable.
Mark my words; Hot Topic stores will soon be flooded with Superbad merchandise. McLovin shirts (and probably fake IDs) will become a ubiquitous pop culture subcurrent in a short while. High school and college kids will be quoting this film as if it were gospel. Boys will suddenly become obsessed with drawing veiny male members all day long. Partygoers will start drinking beer out of oversized detergent bottles. Cops will start listening to Van Halen and firebombing their own cruisers. And I will watch this film over and over again and laugh and laugh and laugh. And laugh.
In the words of my new savior McLovin… “Tight.”