Jonah Hill as Seth
Michael Cera as Evan
Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Fogell
Bill Hader as Officer Slater
Seth Rogen as Officer Michaels
Emma Stone as Jules
Martha MacIsaac as Becca
Aviva as Nicola
“Superbad” is the rarest of teenage comedies; one that manages to be puerile, charming, and genuinely funny all at once. Most only manage one of the three and consider that good enough, as if all the best elements had drained away and the dregs were left to become the “Little Man’s” and “Epic Movies” of the world, but its worth it for the occasional gem like “Superbad.”
At its heart, “Superbad” is a pretty typical teenage coming-of-age comedy, right down to the old trope about underage kids desperately trying to get their hands on some alcohol. Evan (Michael Cera) and long-time friends Seth (Jonah Hill) and Fogell (newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse) are preparing to cross that modern threshold of adulthood high school graduation and as normal for most teen films, that threshold is intrinsically tied to that other modern measure of adulthood: sex. The boys are obsessed with getting together with the girls of their dreams (or at least of their immediate infatuation) at the last big party of the year before they move on with their lives.
Like most films of its type, “Superbad” is the modern American version of the Comedy of Manners, creating its joy by putting its characters into incredibly awkward situations and watching them squirm while they try to figure out the new social rules they’ve suddenly been introduced to. It’s not saying, or trying to say, anything about the end of the childhood years, and childhood friendships, that many, many other movies haven’t covered as well, if not better. But it doesn’t really need to, either. Character and theme aren’t really the point here (though they aren’t dashed off as obligatory nuisances, either). The point is to be relentlessly, side-splittingly funny, which it achieves with seeming effortlessness, mainly due to the very tight script by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.
Evan and Seth and their friends converse with a balance of stilted awkwardness and rapid-fire exchanges of wit that so many teenage comedies dash themselves to pieces on, listing too far one way (where you get a sort of vérité pointlessness) or the other (dialogue so self-aware it ruins suspension of disbelief), but which “Superbad” handles with aplomb. Never do the characters feel like anything other than real high school kids, even during events that could only ever happen in a movie. Cera in particular is an excellent comic foil, side-stepping the manic over-the-top delivery Hill prefers, for a more refined, bumbling, semi-deadpan delivery that always works. His attempts to drunkenly try and figure out what to do with even more drunk dream girl Becca (Martha MacIsaac) are so well executed it almost doesn’t matter that the rest of the film is just as funny.
But the real find is Christopher Mintz-Plasse as terminally unhip Fogell, a.k.a. McLovin (according to his new fake I.D.). Fogell is one of those kids that’s so uncool he doesn’t even realize how uncool he is, until he hooks up with a pair of quite possibly the worst police officers on Earth (Bill Hader and co-writer Rogen), and wacky adventures quickly ensue. Except for the aforementioned drunk scene almost every other really, really funny scene in the film belongs to Fogell as he waffles between terror and enthusiasm. Unlike Seth and Evan, his lack of self-awareness allows him to succeed where they constantly fail by barging into embarrassing situations and just going with the flow. By the time he arrives at the party he’s become the kind of person everyone else there wants to be but either doesn’t know how or is afraid to try.
An excellent example of its particular genre, “Superbad” also suffers where similar films do; for all its humor it’s still very shallow. The girls in the film are largely objects, goals to be attained, though at least MacIsaac gets the drunken bedroom scene, which works largely because of how much she just goes for it. The humor is fairly non-stop, which is good, because any pause for reflection reveals just how little else “Superbad” has going for it. Director Greg Mottola actually does manage to inject some nice character moments, but several of them tend to be so broad that they just feel like an anchor, dragging the film down in between the funny parts.
It’s also very, very crude, which is in itself neither good nor bad, but certainly not to all tastes and something to be aware of beforehand. If you like that kind of thing there are untold comic depths to be mined, but if not, there’s really not much else you’re going to get from it.
A solid effort all around, “Superbad” could do with some improvement in a few spots, but it’s so genuinely and tirelessly funny that what problems it does have can easily be forgiven.